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Officials are determining the cause of a fire that destroyed part of a South Bend, Ind., rubber and fiberglass plant on Nov. 4.
Currently, officials suspect mechanical issues in a heat exchanger to be the cause of the blaze, according to local ABC affiliate 57 News. The company, Abtrex Industries, manufactures rubber used to line tanks and pipes, according to their website. The 50,000 square-foot South Bend facility includes a fabrication, lining and coating shop, fiberglass shop and and polypropylene shop. Heat exchangers are used to make plastic molds and fiberglass.
The fire broke out around 9:15 p.m. after at least one explosion was heard. More explosions followed, alarming nearby residents. One neighbor thought the sound was fireworks, until he saw a big flash, Fox 28 reported. Flames were visible from across the street.
Firefighters from several communities were called shortly after.
"When I arrived and I was the first one here, the whole building was on fire," said Chief Terry Korpal of the Southwest Central Fire Territory. "There was nothing that wasn't burning."
In total, 15 trucks and 50 firefighters arrived on scene. Fire suppression techniques were enacted and the flames were extinguished in about 2 hours. The building where the fire started – one of three on the Abtrex facility – was completely destroyed.
Strong fumes in the area gave an indication that chemicals could be exposed or burning inside the plant. Officials investigated claims that hazardous materials were housed inside the building, but did not reveal any information about what might have been released. A toxic gas detector is generally used to determine if the concentration of materials is high enough to cause harm.
A hazmat team, however, did not find any chemicals in the air, 57 news reported. No injuries were reported.
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