FARMERS VALLEY, Pa. â€” An industrial fire badly damaged the facility at International Wax Inc. on Sunday afternoon, and may have injured at least one person.
The explosion, which may have started the blaze at International Wax, located at the intersection of routes 46 and 446 in Farmers Valley, was reportedly heard as far away as Port Allegany.
â€œIt looked like a miniature Hiroshima,â€ an eyewitness said, describing the cloud that may have been caused by the explosion and fire.
The witness, who was about a mile away from the plant at the time of the blast, was walking a neighborâ€™s dog when they said they felt the need to hunker down to protect themselves.
â€œI felt it. It shook my feet before I saw the smoke, which immediately formed into a dark gray mushroom cloud and soon encompassed the entire refinery,â€ said the observer. â€œIt kept that shape for approximately a minute before it turned to white smoke and the wind blew it in directions away from Smethport and Coryville.â€
Reports indicated the fire ignited wax in a filter room at the plant. Officially, the cause of the fire remains under investigation by two state police fire marshals, who were still on the scene as of 9 p.m. Sunday, according to Smethport fire Chief Steve Field.
The fire was called in at 11:50 a.m. Sunday, at which point the Smethport and Port Allegany volunteer fire departments were dispatched. At 12:07 p.m., a second alarm was sounded, calling in members of the Rew, Hamlin Township, Eldred Borough, Bradford Township, Port Allegany and Eldred Township volunteer fire departments, along with Bradford City.
The plantâ€™s employee fire brigade also helped fight the fire, according to reports.
At 12:52 p.m., fire personnel on scene requested â€œmaskmen,â€ according to reports. A tower from the Coudersport Volunteer Fire Department was also dispatched to the scene.
Aerial trucks from Coudersport and Bradford were needed to cool and contain the building where the fire originated until interior hose crews could fight the fire from inside, according to reports.
Two trucks and a crew of eight firemen from the Norwich Township department were on stand-by at the Smethport station. The Hilltop department stood-by at Rew and the Roulette Volunteer Fire Department was on stand-by at the Port Allegany fire station.
Fire policemen from several departments handled traffic control, and Kane-based state police were reportedly called to the scene.
An unconfirmed report said that one person was transported by Eldred Ambulance to an area hospital for treatment of unspecified injuries. Mount Jewett ambulance also called to the scene, reports indicated.
The American Red Cross provided disaster relief at the site, including the offering of canteening services, while several area EMS agencies stood by in the event of injuries while firefighters from across the region battled the stubborn blaze.
â€œWe had one of our emergency response vehicles there and we were providing beverages, snacks and served lunch to at least 75 of the responders who were there,â€ Kevin Brown, interim communications director for the Western Pennsylvania Region of the American Red Cross said.
McKean County Emergency Management Agency director Bruce Manning referred The Era back to Chief Field and to Kane-based state police, who said they knew nothing about the incident.
International Wax, also known as Petrowax, is a wax processing plant which spans 575 acres in Farmers Valley.
Originally a petroleum crude oil refinery facility, opening in 1923, it was converted to a wax processing plant under Quaker State ownership in 1981. In 1990, the facility was sold to Petrowax, which itself was acquired by Astor Corp. in 1995. Allied Signal then acquired the facility in 1997 and two years later merged with Honeywell, which divested the wax business to International Group in 2005, while retaining ownership of the property.
The plantâ€™s principal operation is to remove oil from wax, and it processes waxy feed stocks into finished waxes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Wax produced at the plant is used in waterproof cups and paper plates as well as the manufacture of automobile tires and candles, the EPA states.