Explosion at Dicastal North America plant in Greenville – Detroit Free Press

Emergency officials responded to an explosion late Friday at an automotive supplier plant about 30 miles northeast of Grand Rapids, Dicastal North America in Greenville, safety officials confirmed to the Detroit Free Press on Saturday.
The company makes lightweight aluminum alloy wheels, according to its website.
Dicastal lists among its clients Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
It is unknown at this time what impact the disruption will have on automakers.
GM spokesman Dan Flores told the Free Press: “We are aware of the Dicastal facility issue and are working with them to determine any impact to our operations. We have no additional information to share at this time.”
Ford spokesman Said Deep told the Free Press that the automaker has confirmed no disruption from the fire. He noted that this supplier builds and warehouses its wheels at other sites.
Stellantis spokeswoman Jodi Tinson told the Free Press that the company is looking into the matter. Toyota and Dicastal did not immediately respond to messages left Saturday.
“The exterior walls of the building had actually exploded and sent debris outward. You can see around, you can see debris that appears to … has been on the inside, that was actually blown outside,” Sgt. Steve DeWitt of the Greenville Department of Public Safety said from the plant site in a video tweeted by WOOD-TV reporter Amanda Porter at midnight Friday.
“At this time, all employees have been accounted for. We do have a report that one employee did receive fairly serious injuries and was transported by … EMS to a Grand Rapids-area hospital,” DeWitt said. “I don’t have any more updates than that. I was told burn injuries.”
Emergency dispatch was alerted at 9:46 p.m. Friday, Brian Blomstrom, interim director of the Greenville Department of Public Safety, confirmed to the Free Press early Saturday. He said the fire was brought under control within four hours and all emergency units were finished within six hours. The site had been cleared by 7 a.m. Saturday, Blomstrom said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, he said.
A company cleanup crew was working on the building exterior and in the foundry area, but there are areas of the plant currently in operation, Blomstrom said.
The hospitalized burn victim is a male employee from the plant, he said.
Structural damage to the building is extensive.
“There’s a lot of debris. There’s a debris field. It does look like there was an explosion. Items that are normally … stacked are spread around the floor and walls. The explosion did actually rupture a lot of sprinkler system pipes. We have water flowing,” DeWitt said.
“This area of the building, as I understand, is near their furnace room. This is where they take large blocks of solid aluminum or magnesium and melt it down in blast furnaces. Then they use that liquid metal to … (finish) the rest of that process,” he said.
“I have two ladder trucks up fighting. We have a second roof crew up there,” he said. “We’re doing what we refer to as a trench cut. So we’re trying to stop the fire from spreading farther out by cutting debris and material that would burn and removing that so the fire would essentially burn itself out.”
Air ducts appeared to be burning, and DeWitt explained ventilation systems are connected to the furnaces, which extract dust, metal shaving and fumes.
“Those metal shavings” are considered a fire or explosion hazard “under the right conditions,” he said.
The plant does run 24-hour shifts. Earlier in the day, authorities responded to the site for an unrelated matter. DeWitt said there was no fire on-site, just a water flow alarm.
In the past, he said, incidents on-site have involved alarms or small fires in the ventilation system.
“Same ventilation system we’re having issues with today,” DeWitt said.
WOOD-TV reported that viewers told the station they heard the explosion from miles away.
“One of the challenges that we have with this type of fire is, we cannot use water on liquid metal,” he said. “Aluminum magnesium react violently with water. So, it’s not your traditional firefighting. … You cannot just put water on it and put it out. So, we have to use dry chemicals or we have to remove the oxygen from the fire.”
With a fire at the ceiling, he said, firefighters have to get closer to the flames to apply the chemicals.
“I don’t think there’s a concern for environmental or health right now in the immediate area. What you’re probably smelling is our chemicals that we’re using” to put out the fire. The factory provides the firefighting chemical, DeWitt said.
To be clear, firefighters did not use water or foam but dry chemical powders specifically designed for metal fires, Blomstrom told the Free Press. “It looks just like the powder found in Class ABC extinguishers the public can purchase at the store, but these specifically are used for metal-based fires. I can’t confirm the make or manufacturer of the substance, but I can say it is nothing out of the ordinary that would be utilized in any foundry-based environment.”
A significant amount of damage was done to the northeast corner of the plant, DeWitt said.
“Their plant safety officer here is on scene. He has been a tremendous help. He knows the plant better than anybody. So he has been assessing damage with us. He also knows the equipment,” he said.
The factory safety officer has taken care to shut off gas, machinery and what’s needed, DeWitt said. “We do have our tactical response team. They’re trained.”
Greenville DPS: 1 severely hurt after Dicastal manufacturing plant explosion
The plant does melting, casting, heat-treating, machining, painting and product testing, according to its website.
WXMI Fox 17 aired video footage of the plant’s damaged interior. Reporter Matt Witkos also tweeted images.
Dicastal North America was the focus of an FBI raid in July. It is still unclear why the FBI raided the company’s Greenville location. No FBI officials had contacted Greenville authorities as of early Saturday, Blomstrom said.
Dicastal has been making aluminum alloy wheels for the auto industry since 2014, according to its website. It is a subsidiary of China-based CITIC Dicastal Co., which was founded in 1988 and calls itself the “world’s largest supplier of aluminum alloy wheels.” It supplies products to almost every Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) in China, Europe, North America, Japan, South Korea, and Australia the Dicastal website said.
More:Auto parts plant blast: Fire suppression, magnesium acted like a bomb
More:From panic to triumph: Behind the scenes of Ford’s epic F-150 restart
In May 2018, Ford suspended production of its profit-driving F-150 pickup, because of an explosion at the Meridian Magnesium Products in Eaton Rapids. While the incident impacted the North American auto industry, including GM and Fiat Chrysler and Mercedes, Ford was hit the hardest.
Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or phoward@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid


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