A massive industrial fire at a potato processing plant in Maine last week has been ruled accidental, the state fire marshal's office said Wednesday.
The Penobscot McCrum plant in Belfast, Maine, a facility which contains tanks full of ammonia, caught fire around 3:30 a.m. on March 24, prompting the response of a hazmat team in addition to the local fire department.
The building was in operation when the fire started, with eight employees on staff. They were all able to evacuate the building safely.
The Waldo County Emergency Management Agency advised residents of Belfast, with a population of around 7,000, to shelter in place, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Evacuations also took place around the facility, which is located near Pierce and Water streets, fire officials said. A high school and nursing home were among the nearby buildings which were first to evacuate.
The fire marshal's office said the blaze started in the area of a large fryolator machine, but due to the extensive damage, the exact cause of the fire is undetermined.
They said it could have been caused by spontaneous combustion of leftover food or a mechanial issue. The fire spread directly into the exhaust venting system that exits through the roof, and extended into the void space between the ceiling and the roof. This area is located above the fire suppression system, which allowed the fire to extend into the rest of the building quickly.
“Given the size of this property, the rapid spread of the fire and imminent threat of hazardous materials, we are so fortunate that all the employees were accounted for early and safe,” Belfast Fire Chief Patrick Richards said. “Control and extinguishment of this fire was certainly a team effort and I am grateful for all the Mutual Aid and support that the Belfast Fire Department received throughout this incident. There were more than 60 first responders on scene that went home without any reported injuries."