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FIRE, EXPLOSION RIP PLANT, FORCE EVACUATIONS

Fire and a later explosion destroyed one-third of a plastics recycling plant here this morning, forced the evacuation of about 100 homes within a half-mile radius and knocked out power to 178 residents.

Four firefighters were battling a blaze inside the Micro Pulverizing plant at 45 Frost St. when a flashover occurred, but they left the building about five minutes before it blew up, fire officials said.

The evacuation of homes was prompted by the fear that 22 pallets of the chemical hexamethylenetetramine would become quickly heated and pose a deadly risk.

The chemical was contained, and no injuries occurred to area residents or firefighters, fire officials said.

The fire, which was reported at 1:30 a.m., knocked out power to 178 residents, but electricity was restored for 150 of them by 5:25 a.m. and for the remaining 28 by noon, according to officials.

The fire was concentrated in the manufacturing portion of the 40,000-square-foot building, officials said. Damage was estimated at $55,000 to the building. There was no damage estimate for the contents.

The fire was reported after smoke was seen coming from the building. The explosion came soon after firefighters arrived.

A plume of smoke rose from the explosion, dropping remnants of the plant all over the city, fire officials said.

The explosion also blew out the west wall of the building, collapsing the roof and knocking down power lines outside the building, Lockport Assistant Fire Chief Michael Seeloff said. The live wires prevented firefighters from approaching the west and south sides of the building. A New York State Electric & Gas Corp. crew was called in to turn off the power.

Seeloff said the large explosion followed three smaller explosions, caused by a buildup of dust in the building.

Because of the problems with the live electrical lines and the chemical threat, Seeloff said, firefighters allowed the fire to burn free in one section of the building because they would not have been able to contain the runoff if the chemicals became mixed in the water from fire hoses.

Firefighters also had problems getting water pressure to fight the fire on the north side of the building.

Hexamethhylenetetramine, when quickly heated, breaks down into a deadly poison that is absorbed through the skin, Seeloff said. He said it also breaks down into formaldehyde gas, which is carcinogenic.

Flames consumed only two pallets of the chemical, and the deadly materials diluted before they could cause any harm.

The cause is under investigation.

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