SPOKANE, Wash.—An explosion rocked an aerospace plant in northeast Washington, toppling large pieces of machinery, lifting an entire floor off its foundation and seriously injuring five people, authorities said Wednesday.
The sheer power of the blast Tuesday night and the shrapnel it created caused the majority of the damage, and little to no fire ignited at Zodiac Aerospace in the small town of Newport, said Brian Schaeffer, assistant chief of the Spokane Fire Department who responded to the scene.
“The energy from that explosion went through that building almost like a tidal wave and destroyed or impacted everything in its path,” he said.
Schaeffer said the blast peeled open huge metal roll-up doors and led multiple places to collapse in the large commercial building in the town 50 miles north of Spokane, along the Idaho border.
Thirty people were inside the plant, but most escaped with help from emergency systems that worked properly, including a sprinkler system, Schaeffer said. Two people were critically injured and three were seriously injured, whether from the pressure of the blast or penetrating injuries from shrapnel, Schaeffer said.
Two victims went to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. One was in critical condition in intensive care and the other was in the orthopedic unit in satisfactory condition, according to an administrative supervisor.
The blast stemmed from vapours released during chemical manufacturing, but there was no more danger to the surrounding area, said Schaeffer, who responded with a hazardous-materials team. The chemicals are used to make fire-resistant components for aircraft interiors, he said.
Officials were trying to stop runoff from reaching a nearby river after water lines ruptured and the sprinkler system activated and then broke, prompting concerns that the water mixed with chemicals, he said.
Several thousand gallons of water per minute were flowing after the blast, but much of it likely was absorbed into the ground, Schaeffer said. Environmental regulators were responding.
Calls rang unanswered at the Zodiac plant Wednesday morning. A woman who answered the telephone at the company’s facility in Marysville, Washington, said they were not commenting on the explosion.
Zodiac Aerospace is a French company that makes aircraft components around the world.
Schaeffer said the plant is one of the largest employers in the town, located in the depressed northeastern corner of Washington.
“It’s pretty devastating to that area,” he said.
Volunteer firefighter Christopher Demlow told Spokane news station KHQ-TV that the blast shook his home, located three blocks from the plant.
“It shook every window in the house,” he said in an on-air interview. “We saw a big plume of smoke coming up from the factory area.”
Associated Press writer Courtney Bonnell contributed to this report.