UPDATE: At least 2 explosions overnight at Hopewell ethanol plant

By Gene Petriello - bio | email

HOPEWELL, VA (WWBT) - Hopewell and Prince George County firefighters are investigating after at least two explosions happened at an ethanol plant Wednesday night.

Hopewell fire department officials confirmed there were those two explosions that lead to a fire inside the plant, centered around a piece of machinery.  The fire department had to close a leaking valve that conveyed liquid during the process of creating ethanol.

This happened at the new Osage Appomattox Bio Energy Plant, which started production about a month ago.

Osage Bio Energy confirmed through a release that there was "an operational incident:"

No one was injured as a result of the incident and the plant management activated its emergency response plan. The situation was quickly brought to a safe resolution.  At the request of plant management, the Hopewell Fire Department responded to the incident and left shortly thereafter.  The event is being fully investigated to understand the root cause.  Work at the impacted portion of the plant has been shut down temporarily, but work on the rest of the facility is continuing today.

NBC12 got many calls overnight from neighbors who say their homes were shaking, as if there was an earthquake.

Neighbors tell us the shaking happened around 11:40 p.m. Wednesday night. So many people had questions about what happened that they couldn't get through to 911. The "all circuits were busy" message came through.

Our photographer wasn't allowed to get too close to the plant, but while out there his eyes started to burn. Neighbors say they felt the same way and also got headaches

Neighbors could feel a rumble several blocks away from 14th Street to 9th Street, all just off Atlantic Street.

Fire crews have told NBC12 that they received a call about a possible explosion just before midnight last night. When they arrived here, they found a fire near part of the plant where ethanol is made. Once here, they were able to find a valve and shut it off. That stopped both the leak and the fire. In all, crews where here for about 3 hours.

William Dean lives within sight distance of the plant. He, along with several others, heard some loud explosions in the middle of the night. "It sounded like a car hit the house. Everyone came out in their yards because the whole house shook. It felt like somebody ran into the house."

He adds, "everyone was just scratching their heads. They didn't know what happened."

The Hopewell Fire Chief says they used meters to make sure there were no harmful vapors in the air because of the situation at the plant. That is news that William is glad to hear about. "I have two children here and I can't handle that [referring to problems with air quality]."

The Hopewell Fire Chief tells us his department is currently investigating why certain liquids mixed here on the site, in a spot where they should not have done so.

Construction of the Osage plant started in the fall of 2008 with 50 employees ready to work. During construction, the builder found contaminated soil on the site but it didn't slow down construction.

The plant went into production last month and is the only commercial plant in the country to make ethanol from barley.

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