Plant Fire Forces 5,000 People to Flee

A magnesium fire at a recycling plant that forced thousands to evacuate their homes may take days to burn itself out since firefighters have given up trying to extinguish the blaze themselves.

The fire erupted at theAdvanced Magnesium Alloys Corp. (search) plant around 5 p.m. Friday, but explosions forced firefighters out less than three hours later, said police Detective Terry Sollars.

No injuries were reported.

At midmorning Saturday, several dozen fire and police officers remained posted around the plant, keeping watch on the fire that had grown considerably smaller overnight but continued to smolder, Sollars said.

Representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (search) were at the scene.

"They're taking tests of the air quality before they let anyone back in. We're not sure when that might happen," Sollars said.

Magnesium is a silvery-white, highly flammable metal. Burning magnesium produces irritating or toxic fumes and is typically extinguished using dry sand since water can cause a flare-up or explosion.

"God doesn't have enough sand in Anderson," Fire Chief J.R. Rosencrans said. By 9 p.m. Friday, he had decided to let the fire burn itself out.

Authorities evacuated 3,000 to 5,000 people from an area about one mile wide and two miles long that fell in the path of the smoke, which was carried by wind at about 5 mph, Sollars said.

"They're afraid the plant is gonna blow," said Doug Parks, who lives across the street and upwind from the plant. "We heard a couple of explosions that shook the house."

Sollars said the fire began in an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of magnesium in one section of the plant. "We're not sure yet on what the start of it was," he said.

Twelve to 18 of the plant's approximately 70 workers were inside at the time, he said.