Pellets continue to smolder in warehouse, firefighters remain

·4 min read

May 18—City firefighters are keeping an around-the-clock eye on Mayor's Point Terminal where a warehouse filled with wood pellets burned in a raging fire more than two weeks ago.

Flames flare up occasionally in the still-smoldering mountain of wood pellets as workers remove the highly flammable product one frontend loader scoop at a time.

The Brunswick Fire Department has maintained a presence 24/7 at the site leased by Logistec ever since the towering flames and smoke consumed the 139,000-square-foot warehouse May 2.

"We'll be there until Logistec gets the remainder of the pellets removed," said Brunswick Fire Chief Randy Mobley. "It's a slow process, but they are getting the warehouse torn down and the pellets removed."

The fire started with a loud explosion followed by billowing clouds of dark smoke and flames shooting as high as 75 feet above the tall building. The warehouse stood just inside port property on East River at the corner of Newcastle Street and 4th Avenue — a stone's throw away from the start of Brunswick's residential south end.

The Montreal-based stevedoring and shipping conglomerate used the warehouse to store wood pellets, which it ships to European countries for use as biofuel in power plants. The warehouse has a capacity to hold 50,000 tons of wood pellets.

Mobley said the warehouse was full of wood pellets when it caught fire. Spontaneous combustion resulting from heat generated within the pellet pile likely caused the fire, officials suspect.

The state fire marshal and the federal division of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives continue to investigate the cause.

A crew of at least four Brunswick firefighters remain on scene. As Logistec employees shovel out the wood pellets with frontend loaders, smoldering embers flare up.

An excavator trucked in from Tennessee also is on the job and using specialized "grabber teeth" to rip back remains of the collapsed roof so that firefighters and workers can better access the wood pellets, Mobley said.

"It's been smoldering since day one," Mobley said. "And every so often, while digging into the pellets, the smoldering pellets will free burn. And we're there to put them out."

The firefighters have two standard city fire trucks on scene, as well as a larger ladder truck on loan from Glynn County Fire-Rescue. A county firefighting crew had joined the Brunswick firefighters on scene until last week.

"We really appreciate the help they have provided and continue to provide," Mobley said of the county.

Mobley and the Brunswick Fire Department are no strangers to this situation. Two roughly 50,000-square-foot wood-frame and aluminum buildings were consumed in flames in July 2015. After the massive multiagency effort to contain the fire, Brunswick firefighters remained on scene 24/7 until September of that year.

The 139,000-square-foot warehouse that exploded in flames two Sundays ago was built to replace the two older warehouses. Its state-of-the-art features included interior sprinklers and a vacuum system to clear potentially flammable wood dust particles from the air.

Brunswick firefighters have battled smaller wood pellet fires inside the new warehouse several times, including in 2017, 2018 and on Easter Day 2019, as reported by The News. Spontaneous combustion as a result of overheated pellets also was cited in those fires.

Mobley declined to estimate the overtime his department has amassed in the past two weeks. After the 2015 warehouse fire, Logistec reimbursed the city for much of the fire department's resulting overtime.

"I couldn't even attempt to guess," Mobley said.

Logistec workers are about halfway through removing the wood pellets, Mobley said.

The pellets are being hauled to a rural landfill, though each load is checked to ensure there are no embers inside, he said. Still, "they've had troubles getting drivers to haul the product," Mobley said.

He hopes his firefighters may be able to stand down from their around-the-clock watch by early next week.

"I feel pretty sure we'll be here the rest of this week," Mobley said. "Hopefully, we can come home by the first of next week. But it's hard to tell at this point."

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