No one was injured in a fire and explosion that rocked an industrial area in Akron on Wednesday and prompted a large-scale evacuation.
But a hazardous materials team didn’t reach the site for more than two hours because officials feared butadiene — the primary chemical used by Emerald Performance Materials — could cause a secondary explosion or chemical reaction with other materials there.
Firefighters were forced to wait on the edge of the evacuation zone with residents and employees from nearby homes and businesses as officials scrambled to get a drone and airplane equipped with cameras over the factory to see what was burning and how hot.
Finally, just after 3 p.m., hazardous materials teams suited up in full-body fire suits and breathing masks and ventured inside.
By then, all that remained was a small fire burning on the factory’s roof. It was likely caused by towering flames that could be seen shooting skyward after the explosion.
The fire department reported the fire was out by 5 p.m.
Employees in charge of safety at the factory and a contractor hired by the company accompanied the hazmat team, which was already familiar with the factory.
Over the past 12 months, the Akron Fire Department had visited the factory for an annual safety presentation and performed a safety drill there to practice the best way in and out of the facility if there was an emergency.
Emerald Performance Materials — which supplies chemicals to the aerospace, cosmetic, paint, food and other industries — has also provided information to the fire department about the types of chemicals on the property, including the highly flammable butadiene, which can irritate peoples’ eyes, noses and throats.
Officials evacuated a half-mile radius around the plant on Akron’s south side, and Akron police and workers with Summit County Victims’ Assistance set up a team at the University of Akron’s student union to provide information and help reunite families separated during the crisis.
No one was missing, officials said, but some children and parents found themselves on opposite sides of the evacuation zone.
What caused the 12:54 p.m. blast remained unclear Wednesday.
The boom rattled houses in south Akron, Firestone Park and Kenmore, residents told reporters.
A large, short-lived flame appeared in the sky, followed by a towering plume of black smoke that was visible from downtown, about 3 miles from Emerald Performance Materials.