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Fire, explosions at Rouge Steel plant January 5, 2001, 9:49 PM
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Four explosions and a fire at the Rouge Steel plant on Friday injured at least two workers, authorities said.
Police Lt. Richard Zimmerman said the workers were able to walk away after the explosions in a blast furnace. A man was treated at Oakwood Hospital for minor injuries that included a cut knee and was released Friday night, Oakwood Healthcare System spokeswoman Barbara Lewis said.
The 1,100-acre Rouge complex comprises six Ford Motor Co. plants and Rouge Steel. Friday afternoon's fire happened in the Rouge Steel area.
Bill Hornberger, Rouge Steel senior vice president, said a furnace made a loud "pop" about 3:30 p.m., and hot, molten steel of about 2,000 degrees spewed out, covering the floor and stairways but causing only limited damage to pipes and electrical wiring.
He said that the furnace area is designed so that if molten metal does spill, damage is limited. The blast shut down the furnace and one-third of the plant's iron-making capacity, but the plant was considering reducing its inventory anyway, Hornberger said.
"We've got a mess," he said. "Whenever you have this happen, you don't know how much damage you have until it cools off."
Hornberger said only four or five people work in the furnace area. No one was burned, fortunate given that "when red hot coke and iron flows out, it burns everything in its way," he said.
"When a blast happens, nothing good can come of that, but you clean it up and get on with life. Thank God no one was hurt," Hornberger said.
Fire trucks poured water on the hot metal through the evening to cool it down, although most emergency vehicles left after about two hours.
Ford spokesman Nick Sharkey said the fire was confined to Rouge Steel -- not a Ford site on the complex.
Marwan Deaibes, 34, who lives about a quarter mile away from the plant, said he heard three big bangs, and the third one was the largest.
"I looked outside and I saw the smoke and the flames coming from the plant," he said. "Everyone just said, "What happened. What happened.' It was shocking."
Tom Childs, an ironworker for Metro Industrial Contracting, which contracts for Rouge Steel, said he heard what sounded like an explosion.
"It shook my trailer," Childs said.
Friday's incident was the latest in a series of accidents at the Rouge complex.
On Jan. 7, 2000, molten steel exploded in a vat at the foundry, sparking a series of small fires and causing two minor injuries.
On Aug. 19, 1999, one worker died and four others were treated after being overcome by fumes while performing routine maintenance work at Rouge Steel.
And on Feb. 1, 1999, at a Ford power plant within the complex, a boiler undergoing routine maintenance exploded, killing six employees and injuring 14 others. State regulators later found 15 workplace safety violations for which Ford was fined $1.5 million.
Ford also has settled all the claims relating to the 1999 power plant explosion for a total of about $30 million.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 05, 2001