Menlo ethanol plant fire strains local fire departments

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008 flint hillsA fire in a Koch Brothers-owned ethanol plant near Menlo about 11 p.m. Friday brought eight local fire departments to the scene with water and manpower.

A security guard at the Flint Hills Resources ethanol refinery said plant workers told him the fire started in the factory’s energy center and was caused by a faulty¬†ignition switch in a thermal oxidizer. The guard, who did not wish to give his name, said this was the first time a fire occurred in the facility during his three-year tenure.

The Stuart and Menlo Fire Departments were the responding agencies, and the firefighters soon called for mutual aid from other departments in Guthrie County and also from departments in Adair and Dallas counties. By midnight, pumper trucks were on scene from departments in Stuart, Menlo, Casey, Adair, Dexter, Panora, Greenfield and Guthrie Center.

No flames were visible from the security perimeter established around the plant. A Stuart firefighter, who also did not wish to be identified, said the fire was located in the conduits of the facility. He said large quantities of water were called in to standby in case the ethanol and other volatile chemicals produced at the plant caused an explosion.

Flint Hills Resources Plant Manager Todd Benton and Flint Hills Environmental Health and Safety Manager Michael Corbett were on scene, according to sources, but were not available for comment.

The 110 million gallon ethanol production facility began operating in September 2008 as Hawkeye Energy Holdings, a company owned by Iowa agriculture magnate Bruce L. Rastetter. The plant was designed by Kansas-based ICM Inc. and built by the Minnesota construction company Fagen Inc.

Flint Hills Resources LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc., acquired the plant in 2010 from Hawkeye Energy Holdings.

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