Originally created 08/05/99

Amick Farms hires firm to extinguish fires



MONETTA, S.C. -- After taking the first up-close look at the Amick Farms silo that exploded Monday, company and safety officials summoned a contractor Wednesday to use carbon dioxide to extinguish lingering internal fires.

Fire initially became a problem Saturday at the silo off of South Carolina Highway 23 in Batesburg-Leesville. Ridge Spring firefighters doused the inside of the silo with water but did not put out the fire completely. The silo was closed to allow the remaining smoldering fire to extinguish on its own.

The silo exploded Monday and sent 10 Amick Farms employees, who had been recruited to help clean the area around the silo, to hospitals with second- and third-degree burns. The explosion blew out the top and bottom of the 116-foot silo, which held 15,000 bushels of corn.

After engineers who helped build the silo concluded there was no imminent danger -- and after consulting with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Amick Farms officials and experts on silo explosions from Kansas State University -- the carbon dioxide method was chosen as most efficient, Chief Robert Steadman said.

The contractors were expected late Wednesday night or early today, he said.

Because falling debris is still an issue, engineers have set up what they call an "exclusionary zone" around the silo using barricades, but the situation is more optimistic, Chief Steadman said.

"We're finally coming to a resolution, and the end is in sight," he said. "We have no reason to think (using the carbon dioxide) will not go well."

An exact cause of the explosion still is unknown and will be until the fire is out, debris is moved and engineers are able to safely enter the silo to investigate, Chief Steadman said.

The silo will be turned back over to Amick Farms after the fire department has put out the remaining fire. Amick Farms has not decided what to do with the silo, said company spokesman Richard Quinn.

For now, the primary focus for the company is helping the six men still hospitalized with burns and determining what caused the explosion, said Amick Farms chairman and chief executive officer Bill Amick.

"We're focusing on two goals. One, to do everything we can for the men who are injured. Second, to find out what happened so it never happens again," he said.

Two men were listed in critical condition and four in serious condition Wednesday night at the Joseph M. Still Jr. Burn Center at Columbia Augusta Medical Center. All of the men were expected to recover fully, a hospital spokesman said.

Mark Mathis can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.