OH, Explosion leaves 3 seriously burned

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Blast, fire cause about $1 million damage at Akron Paint & Varnish BY JULIE WALLACE Beacon Journal staff writer

AKRON: A fiery explosion yesterday afternoon at Akron Paint & Varnish Inc. left three workers seriously injured and caused an estimated $1 million in damage.

It was the second blaze in three days at the plant located at 1390 Firestone Parkway. A flash fire Wednesday sent two workers to the hospital.

``Basically, it's the same thing as Wednesday,'' Akron Fire Capt. David Ware said. ``This time, though, there was more damage.''

Ware said the explosion occurred about 3 p.m. when workers were adding chemicals to a vat containing about 150 gallons of hexane, a flammable liquid used to make a puncture sealant.

What sparked the blaze is undetermined, he said.

The three workers -- plant manager Thomas Venarge, a 10-year employee, and Dale Vance and Scott E. James, both of whom have worked for the company for about a year -- were listed in serious condition in the burn unit at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Akron. They suffered second- and third-degree burns on 50 to 70 percent of their bodies, fire officials said.

Thomas Mosely and Mike Collart, the two workers injured Wednesday, remained at the hospital yesterday listed in serious condition.

The workers hurt in yesterday's fire were the only people inside the building where the explosion occurred. The building runs alongside Emerling Avenue and it contains a mezzanine area where two of the workers were believed to have been when the vat ignited, Ware said. The third worker might have been operating a tow motor, Ware said.

Fire officials estimate the damage at more than $1 million. The impact blew out a cement block wall of the building and damaged the vats, which company officials said were worth $1 million themselves, Ware said.

Mike Summers, plant operations manager, said the company employs 65 people and has been making the puncture sealant for about a year.

After the incident Wednesday, which fire officials say occurred while workers were cleaning the vats used to make the puncture sealant, the company suspended production for a day and resumed Friday after an engineer examined the process.

``We don't know what happened,'' Summers said.

The company will remain closed through Memorial Day. It could continue its production in the other buildings that were not damaged, but company officials will decide this weekend when to reopen, Summers said.

Vincent Eaddy of 1420 S. Main St. lives near the plant and was in his garage when he heard a boom. He stopped a passing police car and directed the officer to the plant, he said.

``You could see the fire -- the orange flames gushing up and you could hear someone yelling for help,'' Eaddy said.

Gary Strain of 28 W. Emerling Ave. was watching television when he heard a noise and thought someone ran into the telephone pole at Emerling Avenue and Firestone Parkway.

He ran across the street and saw the three workers inside the fenced-in area behind the building that had just exploded. Pieces of the workers' clothing -- a burned shirt, a charred leather glove and a baseball hat -- remained on the roadway after emergency crews took the men to the hospital.

``I helped three of them out,'' Strain said. ``They were inside the property crawling, and all three were burned bad.''

Strain said his brother works at the plant but was not there yesterday. Strain said he doesn't think the company is unsafe.

``It is a dangerous business, but they seem like they have everything under control,'' Strain said. ``They are on the ball when anything happens.''


-- Doris (number9@mindspring.com), May 29, 2000

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