Fire damages Hormel generator

Published 11:00 am Thursday, August 30, 2012

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Witnesses claim to have heard an explosion

Smoke billowed thick in the east parking lot of the Hormel Foods Corp. production plant Wednesday afternoon following a fire in the facility’s generator.

Hormel workers watched from a distance as two fire engines and numerous police cars responded to a dispatch call made around 3:05 p.m. that warned of a fire on the east side of the property.

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“The Austin plant called the Austin Fire Department regarding a small fire in a generator outside the plant,” said Rick Williamson, manager of external communications at Hormel. “The fire was extinguished and there were no injuries and no impact on operations.”

Austin Fire Chief Mickey Healey said the fire was the result of a mechanical failure within the generator, and was small and well-contained because of the way the generator was designed. There was no immediate danger from the fire, though the situation could have become more problematic if the fire had grown. The generator sits above 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

Healey said the generator would require “pretty extensive” repairs. While the fire came during a spell of hot weather and one day before a scheduled fire weather watch, he said weather did not contribute to the fire.

Those going about their daily routines in the area stopped to peer over at the plant and see what was the matter.

“What blew up?” asked Lu Jensen, office manager at the Culligan water store across the street from the generator.

She and her coworker Cole Barber, a Culligan driver, went outside after they heard what they took to be an explosion. It sounded, Barber said, like “a loud thud.”

“I thought maybe [someone] dropped something off the forklift,” Jensen said.

Watching from across the street, the two said it took some time for the smoke to begin coming out of the generator.

No blaze was readily visible from the street, though the smoke blew northeast across traffic on Eighth Street, prompting many drivers to stop and investigate.

Emergency personnel were called back to the scene around 4:30 p.m. when smoke continued to rise from the generator, but the fire did not rekindle.

“A section of it basically had some vapor jammed into it because of the heat,” Healey said.