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Crews battle fire at Intalco aluminum smelter west of Ferndale

Smoke billows from a tower that’s part of an emission-control system connected to the carbon plant at Alcoa Intalco Works west of Ferndale early Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016.
Smoke billows from a tower that’s part of an emission-control system connected to the carbon plant at Alcoa Intalco Works west of Ferndale early Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Firefighters battled a fire for several hours early Tuesday at the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter west of Ferndale.

Crews were dispatched at 2:15 a.m. to a fire at the plant, 4050 Mountain View Road, said Division Chief Ben Boyko at Whatcom County Fire District 7, which serves the Ferndale area.

He said the fire was burning in ductwork and a tower that is part of a system the plant uses to treat carbon particles, turning them into a solid. That portion of the plant has seen other fires recently, he said.

“Plant officials are currently assessing the damage, the cause of the fire and impact to production,” Intalco spokesman Josh Wilund said.

“They did have heavy smoke showing from the tower, and some flames, too,” Boyko said. “(There’s a big duct system that goes into the tower. (The fire) was bigger than normal and got into the tower.”

Initially, fire crews went inside to fight the flames, but withdrew to a defensive position after about an hour.

“We cooled it off for awhile from the outside,” Boyko said. He said the crew of Ladder 41 used the big nozzle atop its aerial platform to pour more than 1,000 gallons of water per minute on the fire. Firefighters also used handheld hoses from an engine, he said.

Flames were extinguished about 7 a.m., with District 7 crews leaving soon after, Boyko said. Firefighting efforts required some 25 firefighters – not quite a two-alarm blaze, Boyko said. Units from North Whatcom Fire and Rescue, Sandy Point, and Whatcom County Fire District 8’s Gooseberry Point station assisted.

“We only had the engine and the ladder (truck). The rest were for manpower,” he said.

Several units were released from the scene about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. Posts on social media said flames were burning in ductwork at the plant.

This was the third emergency incident reported in as many months at the plant, which manufactures aluminum ingots and employs 583 people.

Fire also broke out Sept. 22 at an Intalco building. Crews from four county fire districts, as well as Alcoa’s own fire crews, responded to that incident. An explosion at the plant on Oct. 17 injured a worker, sending him to Harborview Medical Center, where he was last reported in serious condition.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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