Unexplained Explosion

Danvers plant blast leaves investigators scratching their heads

By Cindy Devone-Pacheco
Published Monday, June 8, 2009 | From the December 2006 Issue of FireRescue

At about 0250 hrs on Nov. 22, just one day before Thanksgiving, an enormous explosion occurred on Waters Street at a Danvers, Mass., chemical plant with a force equal to that of a 2,000-lb. bomb. The violent blast caused major damage: Glass and rubble shot into the air and onto surrounding buildings; windows of nearby buildings shattered and doors were blown off their hinges; several local homes and businesses were either destroyed or need to be reconstructed; approximately 20 boats at nearby Waters River marina suffered damage; and about 400 people were forced to evacuate the area. Even people in Maine and New Hampshire claimed they either heard or felt the blast.

Firefighters from more than 30 cities responded to the scene and worked through the early morning hours, combating the flames with foam agents. The fire was contained by 0600 hrs, and crews had all but extinguished it by 2100 hrs. There were no fatalities, and 10 people suffered only minor injuries.

Although the fire did not pose a danger to Danvers residents once it was extinguished, there was much concern about their health and safety. The two companies occupying the plant manufactured ink and industrial paints and finishes, which, when ignited, sent heavy smoke into the air and chemicals into nearby Waters River. To determine the health risk involved and to contain run-off, environmental officials and clean-up crews arrived on scene around 0400 hrs. Air quality tests determined there were no airborne toxic chemicals within or around nearby houses, probably because of the high winds in the area. The drinking water was also determined safe. The only toxicity found was located right at the plant site, so firefighters donned their protective respiratory gear.

At press time, investigators had not yet discovered the explosion's cause, but they haven't found any evidence linking the blast to either terrorism or arson. They have also warned residents that because the intensity of the blast so completely destroyed the plant, they may never discover its true cause.

The neighborhood along the Waters River in the Davensport area is one of the oldest in town, dating back to the 1700s. To help with the community's recovery, relief funds have been established. If interested, send donations to Davensport Victim Fund, Danvers Bank, 1 Conant St., Danvers, MA 01923.

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Rick Nohl

Unexplained Explosion

Danvers plant blast leaves investigators scratching their heads


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