Explosion burns demolition worker at pulp mill

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FRENCHTOWN, MONTANA – A demolition worker was burned Monday morning when cornstarch dust exploded while crews were tearing down a storage tank at the former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. pulp mill in Frenchtown.

Mel Holtz, public information officer for the Frenchtown Fire Department, said the injured worker was using a cutting torch on a hopper that once stored cornstarch used in the paper-making process when the dust ignited.

Frenchtown Fire quickly contained and extinguished the fire, Holtz said. The burned man was taken to St. Patrick Hospital. The extent and severity of his injuries are not yet known. His name has not been released.

Holtz said there are but a few buildings left at the site of the former mill. The demolition crew worked for a private contractor hired to dismantle the remaining structures by the property’s owner.

Missoula Rural Fire and Missoula Emergency Services also responded to the scene. Holtz said the regional hazardous materials team also was called to the site to confirm what chemical ignited the fire. They were able to take samples and determine that the powder was cornstarch.

Since Smurfit-Stone closed its Frenchtown linerboard plant in January 2010, there have been several accidents associated with its demolition.

In January 2012, demolition worker Douglas Dove was seriously – almost fatally – injured when a 4-by-11-foot slab of sheet metal fell on him. That summer, a fire broke out in a debris pile after starting in walls caked with wood dust and chips.

A number of other, smaller fires also have been reported in the years since. Demolition work continues.

 

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