About 80 Avonite employees were evacuated from the Rio Communities plant Wednesday morning when five containers of flammable resin ignited.
Rick Fila, the chief financial officer at Avonite, said the fire was contained to an area about 150 to 200 feet away from the main plant. He said the fire is thought to have started as a result of some type of chemical reaction in the process of disposing of the resin waste.
“There were about four people working on the project back there at the time of the incident,” Fila said. “No one was injured and policy and procedure dictated that we evacuate the building.”
According to Tom Pearson, the environmental health and safety coordinator at Avonite, five 30 to 50 gallon containers caught on fire at about 7:30 a.m.
“We were in the process of disposing of the resin,” Pearson said. “We immediately called 911 and helped firefighters evaluate the situation before they went in. The fire was about 150 feet away from a bunker that contained about 240,000 pounds of resin.”
Resin is a flammable substance used to manufacture Avonite, a plastic material typically used as a solid-surface countertop.
When firefighters from the Rio Grande Estates, Belen and Tomé-Adelino fire departments arrived a short time after the fire started, the fire was still burning. Valencia County Deputy Fire Marshal Charles Eaton said the fire was contained to a 25-by-25 foot area.
“There was a lot smoke and a distinct smell of chemical burn-off,” Eaton said. “We took a team of six firefighters in. We had two attack lines who used a combination of water and foam. A back-up team was also on hand.”
With self-contained breathing apparatus, the six firefighters extinguished the fire within 10 minutes. Employees were allowed back in the building a few minutes after the fire was doused.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.