Fire investigators from the Salt Lake County Fire Department and Kennecott Copper began searching through charred debris Wednesday for the cause of a spectacular 9:30 p.m. fire Tuesday at the Kennecott smelter.
Twenty county firefighters, three engines and two truck companies were summoned to the scene shortly after the blaze broke out. Kennecott's in-house fire crews were unable to handle the flames, which at the height of the fire were shooting about 100 feet into the air, said Salt Lake County Fire Department Lt. Cal Latsis.Tooele County firefighters also responded.
The blaze was declared under control by 10:50 p.m., said Latsis, and the last flames were extinguished about 11:30 p.m. No workers or firefighters were injured in the blaze.
"Initially, we set up with hoses to fight a large fire in the southwest corner of the building," said Latsis, a hazardous materials specialist. "We wanted to contain the fire in that section of the building."
When it was determined the fire was burning in conveyor belts, firefighters put on air tanks and moved to the interior of the building with hoses.
"That was difficult because the building is 80 to 100 feet high with various catwalks and stairways throughout," Latsis said. "The conveyor belt was burning at all levels, and they had to stretch hoses up seven or eight flights of stairs. They had to drain the hoses every time they needed to move to another level. It was very tiring on the crews."
Investigators have no idea yet what started the fire, but expect to know by Thursday, Latsis said. No damage estimates were available Wednesday.
The fire is believed to have started in the area of a reactor furnace being rebuilt and spread through a multifloor conveyor-belt system in the copper smelter.
Drew Hunter, director of human resources for Kennecott, said 75 employees were working in the smelter at the time, but, "whether there were any in the area where they were rebuilding the furnace, I don't know. I doubt there were any people there at all."