The Times West Virginian

November 4, 2013

Gas line leak causes fire at Novelis plant

No injuries reported among employees on duty at the time

By Mary Wade Burnside
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — A gas line sprang a leak and a fire erupted on the rooftop of the Novelis plant on Speedway Avenue in Fairmont on Sunday afternoon, but none of the 35 employees on duty at the time were injured.

Three pumpers from the Fairmont Fire Department responded to the 3:18 p.m. incident and blocked traffic going both ways on the Speedway for about an hour, said fire chief Jim Emerick.

Eleven firefighters responded to the fire, Emerick added, and put it out fairly quickly by climbing up on the roof and spraying it with water. The gas was shut off because a gas line leak had been the cause of the fire.

“Novelis is going to be investigating it and see what caused it,” Emerick said.

Dana Hulme, human resources manager at Novelis, said about 35 workers were on duty at the time of the fire. The plant, which works in aluminum rolled products and aluminum can recycling, employs about 185 workers, she said.

“I don’t have a lot of details about the cause,” Hulme said late Sunday afternoon. “Most of our machine centers were running this weekend, and then we had our normal maintenance crew there, about 35 employees. We had zero injuries.”

The plant is manned 24/7, Hulme added, and “for the last seven months, we’ve been working most weekends — not all weekends — because demand for production had been pretty high.”

Employees on the rolling side of the plant were evacuated but returned inside the plant to work after the all-clear signal was given, Hulme said. Employees on the other side of the plant, the slitting side, were not evacuated, she said.

“As far as I know, the furnaces under the area where we cook the metal, those have been turned off,” Hulme said. “My understanding is that all the employees stayed on shift and are working.”

Later, Hulme reported that the main gas line as well as several annealing furnaces had been shut off and would remain so until today.

“But our two rolling mills on that side of the plant are fully operational,” she added.

Novelis has its own fire brigade, both Emerick and Hulme said, which was on scene, as well as their own first responders, Hulme added.

“Typically our first responders come out and if it’s something bigger we call the fire department to come in,” she said.

In addition to all the Fairmont Fire Department stations, Emerick said, the Marion County Rescue Squad and the Fairmont Police Department were on scene.

Emerick called the blaze “an industrial fire,” a small one, and said Novelis officials would be able to investigate it.

“They have the equipment to figure out what was wrong with it,” Emerick added. “They have monitors and we’ll have a get-together and have a debriefing on it.”

The maintenance crew and some managers were on scene Sunday evening, Hulme said, assessing the damage.

“We’ll have a better statement (today) as to the nature of the damage,” she added.

Email Mary Wade Burnside at mwburnside@timeswv.com.