MARENGO, Iowa — Multiple people were injured Thursday after an explosion at a biofuel plant in eastern Iowa caused a fire, prompting the city to urge residents to evacuate.
City officials said late Thursday that everyone in the plant at the time of the explosion have been accounted for. Five people were taken to the hospital by ambulance and an unknown number were taken via personal vehicles, the city said in a news release.
Fire crews continued to battle the blaze, which started around 11 a.m., into the evening. The cause remains under investigation, the city said. Plumes of smoke were seen 5 miles from town, over the fields and roads leading to Marengo.
Here’s what we know.
How many people were injured?
At least 30 people were inside the C6-Zero fuel production plant owned by Heartland Crush when it exploded and caught fire Thursday morning, Iowa State Patrol Senior Trooper Bob Conrad said. Public safety officials were monitoring air quality and groundwater quality.
The University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics treated 10 to 15 patients, most of whom suffered mild to moderate injuries ranging from cuts and scrapes to burns and trauma, said Dr. Theresa Brennan, chief medical officer, on Thursday afternoon.
Brennan said during severe emergencies, the hospital classifies patients as being in green, yellow or red categories, ranging from least to most severe. Only one patient being treated by the hospital was in the red category, she said.
What caused the Marengo explosion? Expert says dust could be source in manufacturing facilities.
Officials haven’t said what may have caused the explosion at the biofuel plant, but high concentrations of dust can be a source of fires in grain handling and manufacturing facilities, said T. Renée Anthony, director of the Great Plains Center of Agricultural Health at the University of Iowa.
When large sources of settled dust become airborne and there’s a spark — anything from an overheated bearing to an electrostatic shock — can cause a fire, Anthony said.
Inside an enclosed space, an expanding fire creates pressure that can lead to an explosion, she said.
“A lot of agricultural products do have combustible dust of concern,” said Anthony, who pointed to dust that caused an explosion at a sugar plant in Georgia in 2008 that killed 14 people.
Another source of fires and explosions is flammable gas inside an operation, she said.
Drone footage shows the fire
Below, see drone footage of the fire from We Are Iowa Local 5 News.
Marengo is located in eastern Iowa, about 80 miles east of Des Moines and about 30 miles from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. It has a population of around 2,400, according to the most recent census data.
What we know about the C6-Zero plant where the Marengo explosion occurred
The building where the fire broke out had been owned by Heartland Crush LLC, a soybean processing facility, which opened there in 2017. However, Conrad, of the Iowa State Patrol, said it now operates as C6-ZERO, a fuel production plant.
The Iowa County assessor’s site shows the property is owned by Heartland Crush, a business that has encountered financial difficulties in recent years.
In 2018, a district court appointed the Iowa Department of Agriculture as receiver of the business after the agency received a complaint indicating the company did not have a grain license.
Heartland Crush started getting a grain license in 2017 but never completed the process, the state said in court filings. The state agency said it found about $1.1 million of unpaid grain. The company negotiated payments to all grain sellers, the agency said.
In 2020, Grinnell State Bank sought to foreclose on Heartland Crush, naming Jeff Buresh and four other individuals, saying the business had defaulted on a 2017 loan and owed the lender about $430,000. The company reached an agreement with the bank, whose attorney filed a document in August of this year saying the company owed about $389,000.
Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach her at FBlock@registermedia.com or on Twitter at@francescablock3.
Story Credit: usatoday.com