Firefighters have hatched a plan to move compromised hazardous chemicals away from a warehouse and blow them up, while still trying to figure out how to clean up the material that's already spilled and could be set on fire with a spark.
About 9:33 a.m. Sunday, there was a small fire at Quality Distribution Inc., at 412 N. John Glenn Road (about 6000 West), which is about a mile and a half west of Salt Lake City International Airport. Firefighters extinguished the flames quickly. But an investigator checking on the source of the fire found a chemical called Trigonox, an organic peroxide, had leaked inside the building, said Salt Lake City Fire Department spokesman Jasen Asay.
Five 5-gallon containers of the chemical broke open after they fell from a pallet, but it was unclear whether that caused the original fire or if the fire caused the fall, Asay said.
Trigonox becomes unstable above 68 degrees and can no longer be returned to a stable state once it goes above 77 degrees. Investigators believed Sunday it had reached that point because the building's air conditioning wasn't working it's unclear when it broke and because of triple-digit temperatures throughout the day.
If the peroxide bursts into flames, it could ignite several other highly flammable chemicals stored inside the business, Asay said.
The fire department evacuated everyone within 2,000 feet of the building and sprayed water onto the roof of the building to help keep it cool. The heat was causing some of the remaining peroxide containers to expand.
By 10 p.m., the emergency responders had devised a plan to move those containers there's about 2,400 gallons of the chemical inside the building into a giant ditch and detonate them, Asay said.
Five haz-mat firefighters, three from Salt Lake City and two from Murray, were preparing late Sunday to go inside with forklifts to move the remaining peroxide. One forklift will move the chemicals to the dock and pass them off to a second forklift, which will carry the containers as far as the paved road goes toward the ditch about 25 feet. Personnel will carry the containers with webbed nets to the ditch, where it will be detonated as firefighters wait nearby with hoses.
Police were planning to dig the ditch, about 60 feet long and 4 feet deep, throughout the night. The detonation operation is expected to begin early Monday morning, Asay said.
The five haz-mat firefighters will also take pictures of the spill inside the building with thermal imaging cameras to send to the chemical's manufacturer, which could then give advice on how to safely clean it up. A spark of static electricity could set it off.
Salt Lake City police, the U.S. Army, the Utah Highway Patrol and experts from other haz-mat crews were also on scene to offer advice or help coordinate extra measures, such as traffic control on nearby Interstate 80, as needed.
Quality Distribution has specialized in the storage and distribution of hazardous materials since 1995 and maintained an "unblemished safety record," according to its website. It's the only place in Utah prepared to handle all types of hazardous materials, the website said.
The hazardous materials area is completely self-contained with a special sprinkler suppression system and explosion-proof lighting and fixtures, according to the website.