LA HABRA â€“ Saul Acevedo was working at a La Habra chrome-polishing plant Tuesday morning when he felt a huge explosion followed by a wave of intense heat.
Acevedo, 45, of Anaheim, was near the entrance and ran outside as smoke quickly filled the air.
Moments later, he saw that some of his co-workers had been badly burned.
â€œThey suffered burns all over their bodies,â€ Acevedo said in Spanish as he stood on a grassy area about half a block away from the plant. â€œTheir skin was hanging off.â€
The explosion left 11 people injured, two critically, with burns over about 90 percent of their bodies, Inspector Scott Miller said. In addition to the two critical patients, four people had intermediate injuries and five others had minor injuries.
â€œI donâ€™t know what happened,â€ said Acevedo, who has worked at the plant for three years. â€œPoor guys.â€
Three of the victims, with burns ranging from mild to severe, were being treated at the Orange County Burn Center at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, said the centerâ€™s spokeswoman Wendi Forrest. Five other victims, one in critical and four in fair condition, were being treated at UCI Medical Center in Orange, said hospital spokesman John Murray.
Sacramento Gonzalez, 49, of Bellflower was a bit shaken, but uninjured Tuesday afternoon. He said workers helped the injured men out of the building and at least one of them appeared to be unconscious.
About 30 workers were polishing wheel rims when the explosion happened around 9:50 a.m. at Gorillaâ€™s Polishing at 531 Commercial Way. Los Angeles County firefighters responded and found smoke and flames at the building. The fire was under control by 10:45 a.m. with the help of about 50 firefighters, Miller said, adding that fire investigators ruled out hazardous materials as the cause.
The preliminary investigation pointed to lint and dust in a duct system as the cause of the explosion and fire, he said. Other materials in the building then contributed to the fireâ€™s spread, he said, and in spite of Tuesdayâ€™s wind advisory, weather was not a factor.
The combination of lint and dust can be a volatile combination of flammable materials, he added.
â€œIt goes very quickly and very intense,â€ he said.
The explosion and fire caused â€œextensive damageâ€ to the building, Miller said, including smoke, fire and water damage to its interior. A damage estimate was not immediately available.
COMPANY HAD BEEN CITED
In 2011, an inspection by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found seven violations at the business, ranging from not properly training employees on hazardous substances to failing to monitor employeesâ€™ exposure to airborne contaminants, according to Cal-OSHA records. Gorillaâ€™s Polishing ultimately paid $1,975 in fines in a settlement, and the case was closed in January 2013.
On Tuesday, a smoky, acrid smell lingered in the air as ambulances drove off.