CONYERS — Rockdale Fire Rescue Chief Dan Morgan said he hopes to have the BioLab fire and cleanup effort wrapped up sometime Monday afternoon.
Morgan said firefighters and hazmat personnel were working to address pallets of trichloric acid that had caught fire or that were smoking. The process involves moving the pallets out of a BioLab warehouse with heavy equipment and then placing the pallets in a vat of what is essentially bicarbonate of soda, Morgan said. That mixture is spread out and then rapidly submerged in water, which prevents it from reacting violently. Morgan said when the chemical is exposed to air and water simultaneously, it reacts violently, generating heat and bursting into flame.
Morgan said the cause of the chemical fire is not known at this time. He said when firefighters arrived at BioLab early Monday morning, several pallets of the dry chemical were on fire. He said the fire was "popping from pallet to pallet as they got hot enough to ignite."
The chemical fire created heavy smoke that kept Interstate 20 in the area closed most of the day.
Morgan also said the department had about 30 firefighters on the ground battling the blaze at about 7 a.m. He said those firefighters remained when the next shift came on duty, bringing the total of firefighters working the incident to about 50. Morgan said his personnel were "in good shape" and rotating in and out. No injuries had been reported among firefighters or BioLab personnel, he said.
BioLab, a leading manufacturer of pool chemicals, was the scene of an explosion and resulting fire in May 2004 that led to the evacuation of hundreds of people in the area.
The explosion produced a thick gray plume of toxic smoke half a mile wide that extended into Newton County. Residents were forced to evacuate for two days.
Each year since then, area law enforcement and fire officials conduct a one-day training at the BioLab facility to prepare for chemical or fire-related disasters.
Agencies responding to Monday morning's BioLab fire included Rockdale Fire Rescue, the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, the Conyers Police Department, Rockdale Emergency Management Agency and the county's hazmat team.
Check back for more details on this developing story.