Explosion and Fire at Pueblo Concrete Tie Plant

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October 12th, 2021

An explosion and consequent fire was reported from the Vossloh concrete rail tie plant at around 10.30AM on the 12th of October 2021. It took firefighters from several agencies including the Pueblo Fire Department  and the Rural Wildland Fire Department of Pueblo several hours to control the fire, which was limited to the area in which it broke out. All 39 employees of the plant present at the time were accounted for with one being airlifted to Denver hospital for treatment for his injuries. His condition remains unknown. 

The fire broke out within a 2,000ft2 storage area with only a roof and no walls, in which reportedly wooden pallets, cardboard and other combustible materials were present. According to fire services the explosion and consequent fire had resulted from an employee carrying out welding operations near a container with petroleum product, which was likely transmission fluid or motor oil. 

The fire was contained to this work area and prevented from spreading outdoors and potentially igniting dry brush vegetation on what was Red Flag Warning day for the area. The fire was also prevented from spreading to and damaging adjacent areas of the plant. All contents within the storage area were destroyed and there was severe damage to the roof as well. There are no reports of roof collapse.

It is not known if the plant is provided with sprinkler protection. Publicly available images of certain areas of the interior of the plant show no sprinklers installed. No images are available of the area in which the fire took place. According to fire services, the public water supply at the plant available for the firefighters was poor which made their task all the more difficult.

All hot work fires and explosions are preventable. The ideal approach to preventing hot work losses is to use alternative cold work methods whenever practical. If hot work must be conducted, it should be done so in a designated hot work area, free of any combustible, ignitable or flammable materials. If this is also not possible, then ensure all combustible, ignitable or flammable materials within the hot work area are either removed or isolated. 

Implementing a strict hot work management program including items such as designating hot work areas, obtaining hot work permits and ensuring a continuous fire watch both during and after hot work, to complement prevention efforts is important. In addition, fire protection in the form of automatic sprinklers and extra manual fire extinguishers should be provided in all hot work designated areas.