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Chemical explosion ignites 3-alarm fire in southwest Fresno

Fresno firefighters exposed to chemical are rinsed off

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An explosion in a southwest Fresno chemical manufacturing plant nearly caught firefighters in a blinding fireball Friday night in what ended up being a three-alarm fire.

Fresno fire Battalion Chief Todd Tuggle said the fire was reported around 10 p.m. at General Coatings Manufacturing Corp. near North and Orange avenues.

The company’s website says it sells foam insulation and other coating products. The chemical that caught fire was actually a fire retardant that is designed to suppress flames.

The chemical is generally kept warm by a machine, but fire investigators believe that the system malfunctioned, causing several barrels to overheat and catch fire.

As soon as firefighters began to hose down the flames, the explosion occurred.

“There was a fireball that erupted at them. They described it as a concussion grenade,” Tuggle said. “The sound was enormous. There was an extremely loud explosion that happened in front of them.”

There was a fireball that erupted at them. They described it as a concussion grenade.

Fresno fire Battalion Chief Todd Tuggle

Firefighters were rotated to minimize exposure to the chemical. Many had to be hosed down and their clothing set aside because of possible contaminants. The firefighters who had been exposed had to be stripped down and washed off outside as the temperature plummeted to 39 degrees.

Four fire crews were inspected for contamination, Tuggle said.

“It was a very dangerous moment for a brief period of time while our teams regrouped and we brought in additional resources,” Tuggle said.

About 12 engines, three trucks, two battalion chiefs, the full Type 1 hazmat team and EMS were on scene.

Afterward, firefighters dug up dirt nearby and used it to create a barrier to prevent the now-toxic water from running out of the building and into storm drains, where it could spread contamination.

No injuries were reported.

There was no immediate word about the cause of the fire or estimated damage.

Troy Pope: 559-441-6442, @troycpope

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