Chemical fire fought with sand, rock salt on Detroit’s east side

It started with a "minor explosion," and ended with firefighters and plant employees working "hand-in-hand"

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

On Tuesday morning, the Detroit Fire Department fought fire with dry sand and rock salt at a plant on the city’s east side.

It all started with a “minor explosion” in a machine that processes magnesium at the Global Titanium plant on the 19300 block of Filer. This was at about 5:10 a.m., said Dave Fornell, deputy commissioner of the Detroit Fire Department. That’s north of East Seven Mile, and just east of Mount Elliott.

File photo


Of the three buildings on site, the explosion took place in a building where the company processes magnesium.

When firefighters arrived, the fire had spread to two storage bins, Fornell said.

“Magnesium, when it ignites, it burns with a white-hot heat, and you can’t use water to put it out,” Fornell said. “The water turns to steam and causes minor explosions, which spreads the material.”

There was also titanium involved.

Such a fire can’t be extinguished with water, Fornell said; it must be smothered with dry sand. In this case, dry sand and rock salt. And unlike at most of the blazes the department fights, this time workers at the site “worked hand-in-hand” with firefighters over the next hour. The sand and rock salt were already on site.

“They knew what they were doing,” Fornell said of the employees. “These people deal with this every day. They’re trained; it’s their job. They’ve got the equipment, they’ve got the expertise, they know what valves to turn on and off.”

As for the building itself it’s “pretty well-intact” after the explosion, Fornell said. “There’s no damage to the structure.”

No one was hurt.