Atlantic Veneer announces wood chip silos will be torn down - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Atlantic Veneer announces wood chip silos will be torn down

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BEAUFORT, N.C. -

A Carteret County company with a history of safety violations is doing more to keep its employees safe.

Over the years, no fewer than 11 people have been hurt during fires and explosions at Atlantic Veneer.

Now the company is targeting the root of the problem: the wood chip silos.

"With the silos being 90% of the problems, that's going to eliminate them all together," said Richard Lovick, assistant fire chief at the Beaufort Fire Department.

Instead of storing the wood chips in silos, the company says it will store them in large areas of open land called "walking floor bunkers." Within the next six months, the silos will be torn down.

"Sounds great. We're tickled to death. We really are," said Lovick. "These are going to be a lot more expensive to do than the silos, but you just can't put a price on anybody's life."

Barbara Basher lives next to Atlantic Veneer. She was home during last month's explosion, when a firefighter suffered minor burns. She said it sounded like a sonic boom.

"It's always unfortunate when accidents happen and it's great that more precautions will be taken," said Basher.

Lovick says the silos compact wood chips, which are highly flammable.

"These silos, sometimes they'll burn for 3 to 5 days before you even know it's on fire," said Lovick.

These kinds of fires are often difficult to access. During last month's explosion, Lovick says firefighters had to use about a million gallons of water just to push wood chips away from where the fire was actually happening.

The best part about the new storage plan is accessibility, said Lovick.

"It's going to be opened up where anybody can get to it. It's going to be laying out flat," said Lovick.

A spokesperson for AV, Michael Kraszeski, says the company was planning to move to an open storage plan even before the explosion last month.

He says the plan is not only safer, but it's more efficient for transporting wood chips.

Nearly three weeks ago, the company asked 50 employees not to come to work while law enforcement and others were investigating the explosion.

Kraszeski says those employees returned to work on Monday.

-- Previous story --

In Carteret County, dozens of people at a wood manufacturing plant could not come to work on Monday.

Production at Atlantic Veneer Corporation in Beaufort is partially on hold, following an explosion at a wood chip silo on Sunday.

This is not the first time emergency crews have responded to the plant. Over the years, a number of fires have broken out at Atlantic Veneer.

Most recently, on Sunday morning, an explosion at a wood silo chip destroyed the roof and sent debris flying through the air.

When crews got to the scene, they found two silos and a conveyor belt system on fire. They also found several small fires in neighboring buildings, and on the ground.

Paramedics treated a firefighter on scene for minor burns.

Now the State Bureau of Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and others are investigating.

"The main part is just what caused it, and how to prevent it for next time," said Asst. Chief Richard Lovick of the Beaufort Fire Dept.

Lovick says this is the second explosion at AV in recent memory.

In 2005, an explosion sent four firefighters to the Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill. Some of them had burns on 30 percent of their body. A fifth firefighter was treated at Carteret General Hospital.

Back in 1992, a fire broke out at a wood silo, sending five employees to the hospital with burns.

"It's an industry. Everything in there will burn. Anytime you get wood, dust, very flammable. I mean, all it takes is a little spark, and it'll go like wildfire," said Lovick.

Records from the U.S. Department of Labor show there have been at least 10 safety violations against Atlantic Veneer from 2003 to 2008.

In February of 2008, a 46-year-old employee lost part of his leg after it got caught in a conveyor belt for more than an hour and a half. The labor department cited the company and assessed a penalty of more than a thousand dollars.

Both wood chip silos at AV are closed while law enforcement investigates what happened, said Atlantic Veneer spokesperson Michael Kraszeski of Mohring Group.

He says the company asked 50 people not to come to work while silos are closed.

Atlantic Veneer was once one of the largest employers in Carteret County. The company purchases and slices logs into veneers, which become components of plywood and other panel products, said Kraszeski.

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