Brunswick officials to meet with Pinova plant representatives following massive fire

Federal officials said air quality was tested, results show it is safe for public

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – After a massive fire at the Pinova chemical plant that burned for hours Saturday, Brunswick officials said they plan to meet with representatives from the company to talk about what comes next -- and about future inspections.

Three operatives from the Georgia State Fire Marshal’s office were at the plant most of the day Sunday looking into the extent of the damage and the origin of the fire, but there’s still no definitive cause of the blaze.

The fire started Saturday around 7 a.m. Officials said it was contained around 10 a.m., then it reignited around 3 p.m. that afternoon. The response was massive and included 13 different fire and emergency management agencies, three law enforcement agencies to help with traffic and logistical support, and Georgia Forestry, which air-dropped fire suppressant over the site. Ron Kurtz, senior director of operations at Pinova, said in a statement Sunday, that it took responders 90 minutes to get the initial fire under control and thanked crews for their “coordinated approach” after the fire reignited.

Though the fire is out, Brunswick Mayor Crosby Johnson said there’s more work that needs to be done to reduce future risk.

“Pinova sits on a corridor that is very close to our marshlands so that water runoff from putting foam, putting water chemicals not only stored in the structure but also the structure itself would be running into city waterways but also into very delicate areas close to our marsh,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he and city commissioners plan to meet with Pinova officials soon.

“There are a lot of questions that we have posed to Pinova. There is a lot of mitigation that we are doing as a city, individually,” Johnson said. “We are going to insure that those responsible for the fire are at the table for the fire that happened at their company.”

Glynn County officials said in a Sunday release that crews continued to “maintain the scene and spray the area as a precautionary measure.”

The massive fire caused voluntary evacuation orders for some residents who were within a 1/2 mile radius of the plant – and a shelter-in-place order for the entire town Saturday.

At a Saturday night news conference, a firefighter said the crews gained control of the fire by setting up a foam operation, and by 10 p.m., they announced that the fire was successfully extinguished and all evacuation and shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

The city of Brunswick had also issued a State of Emergency, which was lifted Sunday morning.

The release said the Environmental Protection Agency distributed seven monitors at various locations around the perimeter of the plant to test and monitor air quality overnight following the blaze.

According to officials, no levels were registered to call for public safety concerns and wind shifts helped move the smoke plume and keep it from settling in the area.

Claudia lives in Brunswick and believes there has been something wrong with the air for years.

Claudia said she’s spoken out about the issue but hasn’t received any help.

“I have made many reports, and I found out that I am not alone. A lot of people have made complaints, over 200,” she said.

For now, Johnson believes making sure there are the right public and environmental regulations in place could make a difference moving forward.

“I think that’s a fight we have to take on whether we get the help or not, and unfortunately, over time, what we have seen is many private companies misuse our environmental resources but also misuse our most important resource, which is the health and safety of our people,” Johnsons said. “At some point and time, those companies have to be brought to the table to not just answer to the problems when they are caught.”

Brunswick City Fire crews are working with the Georgia Fire Marshal to begin an inspection of the Pinova plant, according to Glynn County officials.

The Glynn County Board of Commissioners initially reported Saturday that there were no injuries, but the release said two people suffered minor burns during the incident and were treated by paramedics onsite.

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Kurtz said no employees were injured as well as all workers were evacuated to safe areas when the fire began.

Multiple law enforcement agencies also facilitated traffic as evacuations and shelter-in-place orders were called. They also provided emergency vehicle escorts and patrols for safety.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at Howard Coffin Park for evacuees, where 29 Glynn County residents signed in at the shelter and 16 stayed the entire night, according to the executive director of the Southeast Georgia region. Evacuees returned to their homes early Sunday morning.

Officials said the plant sustained structural damage, but no chemical tanks were affected. Krutz said the fire started in the terpene resin area of the facility. The terpene resins, according to Krutz, are used in adhesives, construction specialties, flavors, fragrances, personal care as well as other household items.

Krutz said the company is working with officials to conduct a full investigation.

Pinova plant officials will make the final decision on plant operations once the investigators complete the inspection.

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