BRUNSWICK, Fla. – A Southeast Georgia biofuel facility continued to smolder Monday afternoon after wood pellets burst into flames Sunday evening, and the News4Jax I-TEAM has learned this was not the first fire on the property.
Firefighters were first called around 8 p.m. Sunday about the fire at a warehouse at the Port of Brunswick, and News4Jax received a video shortly after 10:30 p.m. of the roof of the warehouse collapsing. On Monday, fire crews were still working to keep the smoldering fire under control.
This location, 225 Newcastle St., has a history of fires, with at least two before the blaze that started Sunday. That includes a 2015 fire that burned two large warehouses to the ground.
While it’s Georgia Ports Authority property, records show the facility is owned and operated by Logistec, a publicly-traded company headquartered in Canada. The new warehouses were built in 2016, according to the company that rebuilt them, with “fire water monitors (cannons) strategically located along the inside perimeter of the building.” They are capable of holding more than 550,000 tons of wood pellets. The pellets are traded to Europe on ships, which leave from the Port of Brunswick.
The company’s representatives emailed News4Jax a statement, saying: “… no one was injured and there is no risk to the neighboring homes…The fire was the result of a smoldering event, resulting from a build-up of heat within the piles of wood pellets inside the warehouse. The health and safety of our community including surrounding neighborhoods and our team members who live and work in the area are our primary focus.”
Wood pellets are already controversial, with environmentalists like the Sierra Club and a Yale researcher citing concerns that they are not only a fire danger, but that they release large amounts of carbon into the air.
“I can imagine that these pellets are in huge piles,” said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. “I saw some footage earlier where they brought in some heavy equipment because the building was going to collapse.”
Wyse said the crews in Georgia have a difficult and dangerous job ahead of them, fighting a facility full of fuel. Wyse said it could take days, likely more, to completely extinguish the fire.
“When it gets a head start like that and it’s not seen for a while, those firefighters showed up on, kind of, a losing battle as it relates to being able to save the building or its contents,” he said.
Records show Occupational Safety and Health Administration has inspected the facility at least five times since 2011. The company has been cited for a variety of violations over the years. The only one related to fire danger was from 2011 when inspectors found problems with sprinklers as well as a buildup of dust that could have caught fire.
The communications team at Georgia Ports Authority did not respond to an email for comment Monday. News4Jax also requested an interview with executives at Logistec.