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Morrow fire cause was accidental, chief says

According to fire officials, sparks from a 4-foot-by-6-foot metal basket, carrying petroleum-based products to an outdoor storage area, caused the massive fire in Morrow, Wednesday, that sent up thick billows of black smoke that could be seen for more than 15 miles.

Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Chief Jeff Hood said, Thursday, that the accidental blaze happened while workers at Tensar Corp., moved polypropylene products from inside the plant to an outside storage area.

"A metal basket carrying product [that was] sparking, going across the yard where they store it, in no less than 30 seconds ... the product was smoldering. It ignited and spread very quickly," said Hood.

Nearbusinesses were evacuated and the county's Emergency Operations Center was activated, as firefighters spent nearly eight hours battling the blaze. As late as Thursday afternoon, Hood said hot spots remained, but Tensar officials said the business will re-open Friday.

Brian Connelly, director of North America Manufacturing for Tensar, said the company was grateful no one was hurt or killed.

"Our only loss was finished goods, no equipment was damaged and our employees came back today to help clean up in an environmentally safe manner," said Connelly, who could not give a dollar amount on the loss.

He added that he has not been contacted U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials concerning the fire.

Although the method (of transporting the materials) that caused the fire has been in use for 27 years, Connelly said, officials will take a closer look at making some changes. "We will probably go back and analyze our methods," he said.

Connelly was pleased at how well the fire-containment and safety operation, spurred the fire, was carried out.

"Our evacuation plan worked, the agencies we called, responded, that was great," said Connelly. "But it was disappointing to watch it occur."

Hood agreed. "The first priority is life safety," he said. "The company evacuated the plant, and then, we came in and did a second survey to make sure. We knew the product was going to burn, there was no way around that. But we kept the buildings from burning."