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Blaze Engulfs Massive Asphalt Spill At Michigan Facility

Wed, 10/21/2009 - 4:45am

COREY WILLIAMS Associated Press Writer — October 21, 2009

RIVER ROUGE, Mich. (AP) — Billows of thick, black smoke could be seen for miles on Tuesday after a fire engulfed an asphalt spill nearly the size of a football field in an industrial area southwest of Detroit.

The blaze at Michigan Marine Terminal in River Rouge was largely contained to its outdoor storage yard. Paving-grade asphalt ignited as workers cleaned a 70-square-yard area where the asphalt leaked from a nearby storage tank in May, manager Curt Robinson said. A roughly 100-gallon oil tank also exploded into the air during the fire.

No injures were reported.

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately known. Investigators were interviewing contractors who were cleaning up the asphalt before the fire ignited around 9 a.m.

The facility is in the middle of an industrial area near the Detroit River that includes chemical refineries, steel plants and other facilities. Hazardous materials crews, environmental cleanup workers and other emergency personnel responded to the fire.

The fire was contained to the yard where it started and required about 1,500 gallons of foam to extinguish, River Rouge Police and Fire Chief Robert Alderman said. A few small foundry operations were evacuated because bits of aluminum sheeting from the asphalt storage tank blew into the air.

"The only thing we could do was control it," he said. "It was a matter of spraying enough foam to knock it down."

"I'm not too concerned because it's not gasoline," said Deanne Belcher, 20, who lives near the area and watched the rising dark smoke from about a quarter-mile away. "There is a concern because of all the smoke."

She said people near the area are used to living around refineries and factories, and accidents like these aren't uncommon.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration was aware of the fire but had not officially opened an inspection, said Adrian Rocskay, director of its General Industry Safety and Health Division.

"We will continue to monitor it to see if any MIOSHA action is needed," Rocskay said.

Robert McCann, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, said Tuesday that he wasn't immediately aware if the company had a record of violations.

The company was cited in 2006 by the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to report five petroleum products in quantities greater than 10,000 pounds total, EPA spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon said. Michigan Marine Terminal paid a $7,518 penalty.

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