A fire Sunday morning at Farmland Industries caused a production slowdown but was extinguished before becoming what Lawrence Fire Chief Jim McSwain said could have been a major blaze.
Six firefighting crews responded to the fire, which was reported to Lawrence firefighters at 10:20 a.m.
McSwain said that when firefighters arrived at the plant, located about a quarter-mile east of Lawrence on Kansas Highway 10, flames were visible on the first and second levels of a building housing compressors used to produce anhydrous ammonia for fertilizer.
Dick Lind, plant manager, said today the fire started after a power outage cut off the supply of cooling water to an air compressor. The compressor overheated, and oil in the equipment burst into flames.
MCSWAIN SAID a sprinkler system kicked in and contained the fire to the compressor room. Firefighters then moved in and extinguished the blaze. The fire was declared under control at 11:11 a.m.
If not for the sprinkler system, McSwain said, the fire could have been disastrous.
"This particular building is a major part of their plant," he said. "There was various equipment and oil tanks and hydrogen in that building, so there were a number of hazards."
McSwain said four Lawrence fire crews responded to the blaze. A Wakarusa Township fire crew and a Farmland Industries crew also battled the fire.
McSwain said firefighters originally made plans to block traffic on K-10 in case ammonia was released from the plant or in case firefighters needed to evacuate plant employees. However, the fire didn't spread and no one was injured.
Lind said the compressor is an integral part of the plant's ammonia production process, providing air to mix with the two other main ingredients of anhydrous ammonia natural gas and water.
AFTER THE FIRE was extinguished, Lind said, crews sent the compressor back to its manufacturer to determine why it ignited. Lind said the fire was the result of a mechanical failure and not human error.
Until the compressor is fixed, Lind said, the plant cannot produce ammonia. Lind said the shutdown represents a significant portion of the plant's operations.
Lind said he could not estimate when full operations will be restored. Lind said he also would not be able to estimate damage until he receives a report from the compressor's manufacturer.