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Alcoa's Howmet plant suffers fire

Keywords: Tags  Alcoa, Howmet, fire, aluminum, titanium, Michael Cowden

CHICAGO — Alcoa Inc.’s Howmet casting operation in Whitehall, Mich., suffered a fire in a titanium dust collector late Dec. 5.

Pittsburgh-based Alcoa said neither production nor customers will be impacted by what a company spokeswoman characterized Dec. 6 as a "contained fire" that began inside a wet dust collection system in the scrap blasting department of the Whitehall facility.

"The fire was extinguished after approximately one hour with the assistance of the City of Whitehall Fire Department. No employees were injured and the rest of the plant was unaffected," the spokeswoman said Dec. 6. "Alcoa’s maintenance department is repairing the equipment and expects the system to be fully operational by Monday morning."

An explosion in a titanium dust collector in building four of the five-building Whitehall facility ignited titanium dust in ductwork, causing intense heat that firefighters worried could damage other parts of the building, White Lake Fire Authority Captain Pete McCarthy told AMM Dec. 6.

The fire department was dispatched at 11:02 p.m. on Dec. 5 and had extinguished the blaze within approximately 80 minutes, but firefighters stayed on the scene until almost 4 a.m. as they worked to lower high temperatures caused by the fire, McCarthy said. Some ductwork melted as a result of the blaze, he said, noting that there was "fire blowing out of the vent in the roof," when first responders arrived on the scene.

"A contained fire is not worrisome. But because the fire got so hot, sections of the steel that make up the box of the dust collector began to warp and allow extra oxygen in," McCarthy said.

Firefighters had enough dry chemical to keep the fire at bay until the titanium dust had burned off, McCarthy said. But even after the flames were extinguished, temperatures remained had high as 1,300 degrees, which meant the box had to be capped and filled with water to bring temperatures "down to where we were comfortable releasing the scene back to (Alcoa) Howmet," he said.

No workers or firefighters were injured, McCarthy said, noting that the incident was an explosion by definition but confined to the dust collector. "It didn’t take down part of the building," he said, stressing that popular images associated with explosions are often extreme.

The cause of the explosion has not been determined, and Alcoa is undertaking its own investigation, McCarthy said.

Alcoa Howmet’s Whitehall casting operation makes investment-cast turbine components for the aerospace and industrial gas turbine industries, according to the company’s website.

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