Blaze at rubber plant sends one to hospital|[7/19/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2006

One employee was hospitalized after a midday fire Tuesday at a rubber plant off U.S. 61 South when just-processed rubber burst into flames, Vicksburg Fire officials said.

The blaze was at U.S. Rubber Reclaiming, next door to the former Rouse Polymerics, where five people were killed and seven were injured in a May 2002 explosion.

In Tuesday’s fire, Gregory McKnight, 26, 420 Elmwood St., was taken to River Region Medical Center for smoke inhalation, which company president Don LaGrone said aggravated an asthma condition. McKnight was treated and released Tuesday afternoon, said hospital spokesman Diane Gawronski.

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Flames were extinguished minutes after Vicksburg firefighters arrived and later ruled accidental, said Fire Department Investigator Leslie Decareaux. It began when a batch of reprocessed rubber, fed through a machine the company has been using for only a few months, caught fire and spread quickly to the roof. The rubber emerging from the machine can reach temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, she said.

&#8220We were doing a test with a different type of material and it caught on fire and went up a vinyl pipe and caught dust on the roof on fire,” said LaGrone, who was only a few feet away from the flames.

Most of the damage was caused by a sprinkler system damaging equipment, he added.

&#8220We have very little equipment damage,” he said. &#8220We have electrical damage because of the water…I would expect we’ll be down two or three days getting this cleaned up.”

U.S. Rubber supplies rubber lining to large rubber companies like Goodyear and Michelin. It has operated on Rubber Way Road off U.S. 61 South since 1958 and has 82 employees, said LaGrone.

In the Rouse fire, the company was found by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to be in violation of several safety codes, and a civil suit against the now-bankrupt company is still pending.

That fire was determined by investigators to be the result of the ignition of fine airborne rubber particles in a process LaGrone said U.S. Rubber did not use.

&#8220What we do is totally different than what Rouse did,” he said.

LaGrone added U.S. Rubber did have a fire similar to Tuesday’s about 15 years ago, which also resulted in mostly roof damage and water damage from the sprinkler system.