No injuries reported in fire at Brimfield rubber plant

Theresa Bruskin

Fire will take hours to extinguish

No injuries were reported after a fire at Puritan Systems, a rubber recycling facility near the intersection of state Route 43 and Interstate 76 in Brimfield that began around 7:15 p.m., according to Brimfield police chief David Blough.

Blough said when fire and police reported to the scene, the building was fully ablaze and between eight and 10 departments, including those from Kent, Ravenna, Tallmadge, Streetsboro, Rootstown and Brimfield, Suffield and Edinburg townships quickly arrived.

Officials expect to be at the scene for the rest of the night and hope to extinguish the fire by 5 a.m., Blough said. A “truck, semi-trailer and a semi-truck” were engulfed by the fire in addition to the building itself, he added.

Blough said the last workers left the plant at about 3 p.m., and it appeared no one had been there since. The cause of the fire, which was visible from Akron, is not yet known and there was no damage estimate at the time.

“It appears … the workers had gone home for the day, so we don’t know if there was something smoldering. We have no idea until we can get in here, and the flames are just too intense now to do any of that,” Blough said. “They’re doing what’s called a defensive fire fight at this point. They’re containing it.”

Dan Salmons, 24, of Kent, worked at the plant a few years ago and now lives across the street, said he saw five or six explosions after the fire at the factory began. He said Puritan Systems houses two tanks of 200 and 300 gallons of nitrous oxide, which can be highly flammable under high pressure and heat. The chemical is used to freeze, then granulate the rubber.

“If they catch fire, they’ll explode, and everyone standing here will get hurt,” Salmons said, adding that there had been “a few” fires at the plant previously, but they had all been contained.

Because of the risk of explosion, officials had electricity cut to the surrounding area, which included the radio tower for WNIR, which was broadcasting the Patriot Bowl live from Cleveland at the time. Spectators watching from the Americas Best Value Inn & Suites nearby were asked to move to the other side of the building for their own safety.

Blough said Ohio Edison would turn the power back on when the fire and police officials told them it was safe, but did not know when that would be.

Fire units were keeping a steady supply of water on the chemical tanks, some refilling at hydrants behind the McDonald’s nearby.

Residents of the condo complex on Sanctuary View Drive adjacent to the plant were evacuated between 8 and 8:30 p.m. and asked to go to Brimfield Elementary school where the Red Cross would assist them until police allowed them to return to their homes. Only four residents had arrived there as of 10 p.m. and the Red Cross never got there, so the evacuation center was soon shut down, said Beth Coleman, assistant superintendent for Brimfield Schools.

“We don’t know how it started. We just noted a lot of people were on the street, so we went out to see what they were looking at, and that’s what we saw from our front yard,” condominium complex resident Janet Stanley said. “Eventually, they came and told us to evacuate. But they didn’t tell us where to go – they didn’t seem to have any plan.”

A store clerk at the Sunoco station about 350 feet from the Puritan property, said he didn’t see the fire because he wasn’t allowed to leave the store, but customers who came him told him the news.

“I waited, as a precaution, and warned employees,” he said. “Being a gas station right in the middle of 7,000 gallons of gas, I don’t want to be caught in the middle of an explosion.”

When he did get a chance to go outside, he said he saw smoke rising at least a hundred feet into the air.

Steve Batel, a clerk at the BP station next door, had a similar experience. He said he heard some explosions about 10 minutes after the fire started.

“Police came after about five minutes and asked me where my emergency switch was,” he said, pointing behind the counter. He said there are emergency switches inside and outside the station in case of something like tonight’s fire and possible explosion.

“I was a little nervous at the time, but they controlled it,” he said.

Contact metro editor Theresa Bruskin at [email protected]. Principal reporter Maria Nann contributed to this report.