A mechanical failure caused sections of the kiln to rupture at the Georgia-Pacific plant south of Lovell at around 3 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 21. Fortunately, none of the 15 workers on shift at the time were injured as a result of the incident, which some described as an “explosion.”
Company spokesman Eric Abercrombie said, from his perspective, he would not characterize the blast as an explosion.
“In my mind, when I think of the word explosion, I think of something that would take the roof off,” he said. “That isn’t what happened here. It’s my understanding that it was more of a rupture than an explosion that was contained within the dryer area inside of the building. To me, an explosion is something more severe than that.”
Abercrombie said the plant was immediately shut down and the company already has its own investigative team reviewing all activities that were taking place prior to the incident. He added that since there were no injuries to workers and the incident was confined to the plant’s own systems, he did not expect any outside agencies to be involved in the investigation. He said it’s too early to speculate about the cause or to estimate the cost to the company.
Lovell Fire Chief Jim Minchow said the plant had already been evacuated and the gas was shut off when his team arrived on the scene. He said four fire engines, two pickup trucks and an ambulance were dispatched to the scene. According to Minchow, the ambulance crew checked out employees who were working near the blast and, though a bit shook up, none appeared to be physically harmed.
He said there was no fire accompanying the explosion but there was a great deal of debris in the area. He said it was somewhat of a miracle that employees working close to the kiln were not hit by any of the debris.
“Somebody was definitely watching over them,” he said, “especially a few of the guys who were working close to the kiln.”
Minchow said the kiln itself appeared to be very damaged and he described it as looking “blown out in three or four spots.” He said there also appeared to be damage to light fixtures and a wall near the kiln area, but the roof and exterior walls appeared to him to be intact.
Abercrombie said the company is grateful for the quick response by the first responders.
“We really appreciate their response and can’t express our gratitude enough for the help they provided and for the great ongoing relationship we have with them,” said Abercrombie.
A total of 98 employees currently work at the plant. Abercrombie said those employees working in the production department would obviously be most affected by the temporary shutdown of production and added that the company has already reassigned duties for many of those employees, including some to training, which will keep them working until the company resumes production. Those working in other parts of the operation, like shipping, mining and maintenance, are continuing with their regular duties, said Abercrombie.
“We are in the beginning stages of a thorough investigation,” he said. “We are always working on equipment like this, it’s equipment that constantly moves and needs constant maintenance to keep it in a proper state.
“First and foremost is our concern for the safety of our employees. Fortunately, no one was hurt during this incident, and we are treating it as we would any downed piece of equipment. We are trying to fix it as quickly as we can, so we can safely get production up and running again.”
He said the company held a “town hall” style meeting with employees earlier in the week to discuss the situation. He emphasized that the operation will be down only as long as needed to make the necessary repairs and to ensure the safety of those returning to work in the production area of the plant.
Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia-Pacific, LLC is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and marketers of building products, tissue, packaging, paper, cellulose and related chemicals. The company employs more than 30,000 people at approximately 300 locations in North and South America. The Lovell plant is one of the larger employers in the area and produces gypsum products.
By Patti Carpenter