Ellwood City lithium fire causes explosions, fire still burning

An industrial fire at a lithium battery plant in Ellwood City caused several explosions.

ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. (WKBN) – A fire that started inside of an oil drum and spread to the entire building has crews in Ellwood City anticipating working all day to put the fire out.

The fire at The International Metals Reclamation Company, Inc. was reported at around 8:55 a.m. Sunday by employees at the plant. Less than five employees were inside when the fire started. Multiple explosions and heavy smoke have been reported.

The fire is still burning.

The lithium fire cannot be extinguished with water. The fire is burning at the west end of dock two.

Crews from Lawrence, Beaver and Butler counties are on scene to help extinguish the fire.

There is no threat to the public, but weather conditions are being monitored for a possible evacuation because of toxic chemicals in the building. The toxic chemicals are contained to the building.

A lieutenant with the Ellwood City Police Department said this is the biggest response to a fire he has seen in 31 years. At least two ladder trucks were called in and Hazmat crews are on the scene.

Sean Chumura’s son is one of dozens who were called in to put the fire out.

“I’m just worried about my son going in, that’s why I’m here,” he said.

He was able to see the fire from his house miles away.

“It just looked like a tornado.”

Explosions were still going off as of 10:30 a.m.

“There are containers that are under pressure and they would explode,” Brian Melcer, Director of Public Safety, said.

No evacuations were ordered.

INMETCO is the only facility in North America that provides thermal recovery for nickel-cadmium batteries.

Lithium batteries are capable of spontaneous ignition and explosion due to overheating. Overheating has many causes and results in a process called thermal runaway, a reaction in the battery causing internal pressure and temperature to rise more quickly than can be dissipated. Once one battery goes into thermal runaway, enough heat is produced to cause other batteries to go into thermal runaway.

Due to the nature of thermal runaway, the fire may be explosive in nature or a progressive burn-off. Both types of thermal events can be managed and contained in the appropriate storage and transport environments.

WKBN has a crew at the scene and will have updates throughout the day.

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