Nobody hurt in chemical fire at Suniva

NORCROSS - Firefighters and police set up a half-mile evacuation zone and cleared out several businesses after a chemical fire Tuesday afternoon at a Peachtree Industrial Boulevard plant.

The fire occurred just after 1 p.m. at Suniva Inc. when a team of employees was changing out an empty cylinder of Silane gas for a full cylinder, Gwinnett Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said. Silane gas is used in the production of solar cells and ignites when exposed to oxygen.

"At this time, they believe a malfunction or problem occurred with the valve head of the cylinder," Rutledge said.

The cylinder was contained inside a specially designed cabinet while firefighters and HAZMAT personnel allowed the product to burn off.

Gwinnett police deployed their robot inside the building to relay video footage back to firefighters.

Authorities did not evacuate a nearby apartment complex, but Norcross police officers went door to door as a precautionary measure, making residents aware of the situation.

Three transit buses were placed on standby in case they were needed to take residents to shelter. Rutledge said the buses were not used and that the community was never in danger since the fire was contained inside the cabinet within the building.

"We wanted to be on the safe side, so all these measures and contingency plans were put in place as a precaution," Rutledge said.

An immediate threat, Rutledge said, would exist if the fire extended outside the cabinet and came into contact with the other chemicals and gases inside the building.

At press time, the cylinder continued to leak and burn. The fire was being controlled by a fire suppression (sprinkler) system.

About 40 Suniva employees were evacuated and no injuries were reported, Rutledge said.

Company officials and HAZMAT technicians said the cylinder could take several hours to completely burn off.

Suniva requested a private HAZMAT clean-up company, which arrived on scene Tuesday night.