Grain Still Smolders at Ind. Elevator After Deadly Blast

Grain dust is the suspected cause of Monday's blast that killed 67-year-old worker James Swank at a co-op about 30 miles southwest of South Bend, Ind. Grain fires still are smoldering in silos at a northwestern Indiana grain elevator two days after the deadly explosion.

Mnet 131459 Grain Blast Lead
A concrete grain silo in Union Mills, Ind. after an explosion reportedly destroyed the top of the structure on Monday, June 24, 2013. (AP Photo/La Porte County Herald Argus, Matt Fritz)

UNION MILLS, Ind. (AP) — Grain fires are smoldering in silos at a northwestern Indiana grain elevator two days after an explosion killed a worker.

Safety manager Shawn Lambert of facility owner Co-Alliance LLP said Wednesday that firefighters working from 100 feet up were preparing to douse smoldering grain in at least two silos with water. It's unclear how long it will take to completely extinguish all of the hot spots.

Lambert says work to remove equipment damaged in Monday's explosion at the Union Mills Co-op allowed fresh air to ignite the grain Tuesday night and burn a rubber belt on a conveyer system.

Grain dust is the suspected cause of Monday's blast that killed 67-year-old worker James Swank at the co-op about 30 miles southwest of South Bend.

It wasn't clear where the victim, James Swank, 67, of Union Mills, was at time of the blast, but he might have been loading grain into train cars with two other workers, Maj. John Boyd of the LaPorte County Sheriff's Department said.

"At this point we're just not sure," Boyd said.

All other employees were accounted for and no other injuries were reported.

Swank died from multiple blunt force trauma, LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan said. It may have been a grain dust explosion, he said.

"Neighbors reported a large, concussion-like explosion that shook their homes, followed by a large amount of white smoke," Sullivan said.

Purdue University farm safety expert Steve Wettschurack said grain dust is highly volatile, and a small spark, even from someone using a hammer, can set off a blast, Wettschurack said.

"It'll shake the countryside. There's a lot of power to it. But there's not really a lot of fire to it," he said.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration website says more than 500 explosions in grain-handling facilities across the nation over the last 35 years have killed 180 people and injured more than 675. Grain dust is the main source of fuel for explosions in grain handling, the website said.

Shawn Lambert, safety manager for Avon, Ind.-based co-op owner Co-Alliance, says the explosion occurred inside a grain elevator with several connected silos.

Boyd said the co-op property covers several acres and includes storage for hazardous material, including fertilizers and anhydrous ammonia, elsewhere on the site. The property is about 50 miles southeast of Chicago.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no record of any inspections at the co-op, spokesman Bob Dittmer said.

Co-Alliance is a farmer-owned supply and marketing cooperative serving rural communities in Indiana, Ohio and southern Michigan.

 

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