2013-03-08 / Community

Metal dust ignites fire in Simi building

By Carissa Marsh

Firefighters, police and a hazmat team were called out to a Simi Valley industrial building Tuesday after metal dust ignited a fire within a machine shop’s duct work.

Altogether, 40 firefighters and Simi Valley Police officers were on scene and about 70 employees were evacuated from the business.

The call of a structure fire in the 1700 block of Voyager Avenue came in to the Ventura County Fire Department just after 10 a.m. March 5.

The fire was situated in a space occupied by RSA Engineered Products at 1785 Voyager Ave. The large building is in a commercial complex just off Royal Avenue, west of Tapo Canyon Road.

RSA is a company that designs, develops, manufactures, tests and qualifies products for the aerospace and defense industries.

According to Capt. Mike Lindbery, public information officer for the fire department, the fire was caused by burning aluminum dust in the duct work. The machine shop has a dust collection system that is supposed to expel metal dust through the ducting.

“Dust from metals is highly combustible, and if it comes in contact with a heat source you can have quite a fire,” Lindbery said. “The occupants of the machine shop noticed smoke up at the ceiling level dropping about three feet out of the registers.”

The workers called 911. Firefighters investigated the blaze and determined it was a metal dust fire, which cannot be put out in the traditional way.

“They are water-reactive. We can’t use water to fight these fires,” Lindbery said. “It basically makes the fires bigger.”

As a result, responding firefighters pulled back and the department’s hazmat, or hazardous materials, unit was called out, the captain said.

The hazmat crew sealed off both sides of the duct to eliminate the ability for the fire to travel, Lindbery said, and to let it burn out all the fuel and oxygen in the area.

The fire was largely out by 11 a.m. At that time, fire department personnel were using thermal imaging cameras to check the duct, looking for heat to see if it was cooling off.

Firefighters were also monitoring the air to check for toxic gases.

With the time to do so, Lindbery said, firefighters were “slowly and methodically” dealing with the incident rather than opening up the duct and running the risk of creating a more serious fire.

Ultimately, the hazmat team did not need to inject a dry chemical extinguishing agent into the duct. The fire burned out and the duct cooled off to a normal temperature on its own, Lindbery said.

Once firefighters determined the air was free of any hazardous gases, the business employees were able to re-enter the building, which had suffered little damage.

“Closing those damper doors actually had a real favorable effect on everything,” Lindbery said.

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