Monday, January 21, 2002

Fire adds to foundry's difficulties

By Gregory Korte and Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A raging fire early Sunday that destroyed part of a Northside aluminum foundry is the latest in a string of problems there. Since 1996, Willard Industries Inc. at 1253 Knowlton St. has had a fatal accident, an environmental penalty, and now two major fires in less than five months.

        Paul Thompson, president of Willard Industries, said Sunday he doesn't have an explanation for why his company has gone through so many ordeals recently.

        “It's like an endless black cloud,” Mr. Thompson said as he met with management at the company's office. “I would assume it raises questions for a lot of people. But we are definitely going to continue to serve our customers.”

        Sunday's three-alarm fire inside the plant's machine room and an adjacent break room left $700,000 in damages, said Cincinnati Fire District Chief John Zompero. The foundry, located one block west of Spring Grove Cemetery, makes aluminum castings for small engines for lawn mowers and other small machines. About one-third of the building was destroyed.

        However, investigators couldn't dig in Sunday to uncover the cause because firefighters spent much of the day quenching several small but persistent pockets of flames, Chief Zompero said.

        Only about half the company's 30 employees would be able to return to work today because the power wouldn't be back on until Tuesday at the earliest, Mr. Thompson said. Also, the fire destroyed many major pieces of equipment, including a $250,000 horizontal machining center.

        About 70 firefighters spent more than two hours battling the initial blaze, which broke out shortly after midnight Sunday. No one was inside at the time and no injuries were reported.

        The fire, fueled by exploding acetylene canisters, caused the foundry's roof and part of the western wall to collapse, Chief Zompero said.

        It was the second major fire in less than five months at the found ry. A company warehouse just east of the foundry sustained $700,000 in damages in a five-alarm fire Sept. 10.

        Mr. Thompson said Sunday the cause of that fire, which originated in the center of a storage area, was never determined.

        “They didn't nail it,” Chief Zompero confirmed Sunday. “They eliminated a couple causes but they didn't actually pin a cause on it.”

        Also last year, the company agreed to pay an $82,000 penalty to settle air pollution control violations cited by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, court records show.

        In March 1996, an engineer with Cleveland-based AGA Gas Inc., Curtis Wolf, 41, of Hiram, Ohio, died two weeks after being accidentally burned with a large ladle of molten aluminum.

        The company has been in business since 1938 and at the Northside location since 1951, Mr. Thompson said.


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