By Rob Glidden
The devastating fire at Rex Forge and the subsequent oil spill into the nearby Quinnipiac River was contained by state and local officials by the next day.
The July 31 fire started shortly before 8 a.m. T
he first fire units arrived to find a heavy fire engulfing a portion of a building along Atwater Street. Smoke from the fire was visible for miles and police were forced to close down several roads, including exit ramps from nearby Interstate 84. As of noon that day, the fire was out and no injuries were reported.
In the midst of heavy rain the following day, fire officials carefully cleaned out each of the remaining oil tanks and removed them from the site. The portion of the Rails to Trails corridor that passes by Rex Forge was also closed off.
The Electrical Discharge Machine (EDM), believed to be the cause of the fire, was taken for further investigation. “We have a good idea of what happened but we want to clarify,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Neil Casarella.
During the fire, a 6,000-gallon oil tank ignited. The tank fell through an upper floor of the building and ruptured, causing it to leak into the river.
A DEEP hazmat team responded and set up a boom a half mile downstream to contain the oil. One day after the fire ravaged the factory, the agency reported that the scene was secure.
“Due to aggressive recovery efforts, the job is stable with minimal risk to the river,” said DEEP spokeswoman Cyndy Chanaca.
The hazmat crew, which stayed on scene until 11 p.m. on the day of the fire, pumped oil out of the damaged tank. Before that could be done, the melted metal and tank had to be secured, she said.
An environmental cleanup company, United Industrial, has been hired to remediate the site. It’s unclear when the factory will reopen.
Casarella said that while none of the other oil tanks had become as damaged as the one that created the spill, fire had burned away oil in some of the other tanks. Rainwater had also diluted the oil in a few of the tanks.
The company has been in continuous operation at the same location since 1867, when it was known as the Atwater Manufacturing Company. The building is 200,000 square feet and the company employs about 200 workers.
A report from the Waterbury Republican-American was used in this story.