BELLINGHAM - A mustard-colored chemical cloud inside an engine manufacturing plant in Belingham led to an evacuation of 140 employees and a large hazmat response Friday, Aug. 29.
No one was hurt, and firefighters said the cloud posed no threat to the general public.
A worker at Yamato Engine Specialists, at 2020 E. Bakerview Road, poured a product containing sulfuric acid into a 1,000-gallon drum that holds engine-cleaning fluid, said Bellingham Fire Department Assistant Chief Bill Hewett. Something - likely a cleaning product the company recently started using, already in the cleaning tank - reacted with the acid, emitting a cloud described as a dirty yellowish, greenish-brown color.
"Obviously," Hewett said, "we had a couple of chemicals that shouldn't have been mixing together."
Right away the worker pressed the fire alarm. All 140 employees on site filed out of the building unharmed at 11:51 a.m., following a rehearsed evacuation plan.
"All of those processes worked perfectly today," Hewett said. "That's why we're in such a good spot right now."
A hazardous materials team of 30 people - county firefighters and volunteers from private businesses - responded to the warehouse, near Bakerview and Irongate roads. Several of them suited up and, around 2:30 p.m., entered the building. By then the gas had dissipated so much, it was hard to find a good sample of the chemicals. So firefighters don't know what exactly was in the cloud, or how dangerous the fumes could have been.
"But as a general practice, it's usually not a good idea to breathe in yellow clouds," Hewett said.
After the hazmat team swept through the warehouse in search of hidden pockets of gas - and finding none - the building reopened around 3 p.m. for contractors to clean out the tank. Many of the regular workers went home for the day.