Gassy lagoon possible cause of plastic-melting fire

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

City of Washburn able to put out blaze, in process of repairs

On the morning of Aug. 4, the Washburn Fire Department was called in for a fire at the Washburn lagoon.

James Libertus, Washburn maintenance supervisor, said at about 7:30 a.m., he received a call from the fire department, which was already on scene.

“We don’t know exactly what happened because we don’t know what sparked the fire,” he said. “We don’t know what the gases were. It could have been methane, but we don’t know for sure.”

Libertus said he has been working in Washburn for nine years and nothing like this has ever happened before.

“There was melted plastic, so it obviously got very hot,” he said. “We believe it was just an accident, maybe something was in the system. We thought that maybe when the pump kicked on there was a spark and there were enough gasses there to ignite and start the fire.”

Libertus said there were flames shooting out of the wet well and was melting plastic wherever it was exposed.

“There was some heat damage inside the control box, as well,” he said. “The system was down for a little while, and right now, we just have one pump working.”

Libertus said the city took the other pump off to be repaired, and he believes a new one may have to be purchased.

“I am still waiting on a price for that,” he said. “Usually, we have two pumps in that location, but they alternate.”

Libertus said at the moment, there is just one pump working.

“Enviro-Line was the company that originally installed the system 20 years ago, and they have been called in to help assist on rehabilitating the lift station,” he said. “I am trying to get prices from them, but otherwise, we are ready to finish things up.”

Libertus said everything had been maintained properly, so there was not an issue there.

“To keep this from happening again in the future, we have vents taking the fumes out of the roof of the carport, rather that letting them gather,” he said. “The pump guys are going to put a blower on the pump that will help draw the gasses out.”

Libertus said there also needs to be a blower on the inside of the dry well.

“We don’t believe that this event could have caused any issues with residents or businesses in the area,’ he said. “The fire was seeking oxygen, and the flames were coming up to grow, not going backward through the pipes.”

Libertus said there was also no overflow or anything that contaminated the ground.

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