Fire hits manufacturing plant in eastern Illinois

DANVILLE — Danville fire officials are investigating Friday’s blaze at a local manufacturing plant, which did major damage to one of its buildings.

Firefighters were called to the structure fire at Automation International Inc., 1020 Bahls St., at 10:13 a.m. When they arrived, flames and heavy smoke were coming from the one-story brick building, located at the back of the company’s six-acre complex.

Assistant fire Chief Tom Pruitt said firefighters initially were concerned about whether any chemicals were stored in the building.

“They were able to tell us what chemicals they did have and exactly where they were, which was a tremendous help,” Pruitt said, adding that the fire never got to the area where varnish and flammable liquids were stored.

It took firefighters 45 minutes to an hour to extinguish the blaze, Pruitt said. Officials were still at the scene later that afternoon trying to determine the cause.

Automation International, a full engineering and automated equipment manufacturer, designs and manufactures a variety of automated, flexible welding and forming systems ranging from one machine to a complete production line.

The 5,000-square-foot rectangle-shaped building is the company’s shipping, receiving and transformer shop and one of five buildings at the plant’s complex, said President Larry Moss. He said the front is used to build large transporters, the back is used to house new product used to build the machinery, and the center portion is where a lot of the company’s old archival drawings were stored.

Moss said one employee was working in the building when the fire broke out, but he wasn’t injured. When the employee noticed the fire, he ran to a building across a parking lot to alert the foreman.

“They saw it, and tried to put it out with fire extinguishers,” said Moss, who was also in another building at the time. “They almost had it out, but it got up into the old wooden rafters.”

Employees were able to remove a flatbed truck and a couple of lift trucks before they were damaged, he said.

Moss said the company had put a new roof and aluminum siding on the metal-wrapped building in the last two years. He said officials will have to decide what to do with the building, which was gutted.

“I’ve got a feeling it’s probably done for,” he said, as he watched firefighters battle the flames. “I don’t think we’ll want to keep it. It probably won’t be worth it. The roofing is damaged so badly.”

Moss said the company still plans to move forward with a 19,000-square-foot addition to another building on the other side of the complex this spring.

In October, the company acquired the rim and wheel intellectual property of Hess Industries, which was located in Niles, Mich., and ceased operations in June 2012. Moss said it also recently acquired the intellectual property of another company in Scotland.

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