At about 4:23 p.m. on September 14, there was an explosion at the Nestle Purina plant in east Flagstaff. Four personnel from a private contracting company were doing repair work on the fifth floor of the grain elevator when their welding torch ignited the mixture of grain dust and oxygen in the atmosphere causing the explosion.
The checkerboard insignia at the top of the prominent grain elevator is actually a blow out panel designed to allow gases to escape the building in such a situation preventing a building collapse. The metal door at the base was blown off its hinges as well as two roll up doors to the exterior.
One of the men received severe life threatening burns and was flown the Maricopa Burn Center by Guardian Air helicopter. Another was transported to the same facility by Guardian Medical Transport ground ambulance. A third is being treated at Flagstaff Medical Center for moderate burns and the fourth was treated and released.
A second alarm was sounded for the Flagstaff Fire Department. Sending five engines a Quint (ladder truck) a rescue unit and a battalion chief. All off duty fire personnel reported to the stations as well as partners from Summit and Highlands Fire Districts.
The explosion consumed all the grain (fuel) and oxygen in the atmosphere in the enclosed concrete and steel area so there was no ensuing fire. According to Fire officials, their priorities were to treat the injured, confirm a complete evacuation of the plant, search for fire extension, ventilate the atmosphere and investigate the cause.
Nestle Purina has a very positive safety record, according to Flagstaff Fire officials, and this is the first such incident at the plant in the over four decades of operation. All systems and safety personnel operated appropriately. The production side of the plant was closed for the weekend but the warehouse side was operating.
The warehouse is geographically separated from the production side and, though evacuated, the employees were not in danger. Purina’s structural engineers are evaluating the building and working to get the facility up and running. No other citizens or firefighters were injured in the blast. The total repair cost is undetermined at this time.