The Woodward News

September 5, 2012

Cause of fire at welding shop under investigation

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Fire officials are investigating the cause of a fire that destroyed a welding shop on the west side of Woodward on Wednesday afternoon.

No one was injured in the fire, which broke out around 12:35 p.m. at a welding facility owned by Diamond Services.  The company, whose campus is located in the 4200 block of Oklahoma Ave., is involved in energy-related excavation, pipeline construction and trucking.

Due to it being the lunch hour, the facility was mostly vacant when the fire erupted, according to Kerry Martin, president of Diamond Services.

"One of our foremen has a little office inside the building and he was out in front of the office when heard some loud popping," Martin said.  "He ran out and around to the front of the building and he saw that there was lots of smoke coming from the corner and it was already in flames."

Martin said that while there were numerous fire extinguishers kept inside the structure, "the fire was already out of control," so the employee decided to get to a safe distance and call 9-1-1.

Due to a number of flammable materials inside the structure, including welding-related gases such as acetylene, the fire spread quickly.

By the time firefighters arrived on scene, the entire structure was "fully engulfed," according to Woodward Assistant Fire Chief Todd Finley.

Click below to watch Finley's initial report from the scene, shot about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5.

Firefighters began an exterior attack on the fire, but several explosions from within the burning facility caused fire officials to pull their men and equipment back to a safe distance, Finley said.  It also led them to evacuate people from surrounding buildings.

"We were concerned about exploding bottles flying through the air, which we saw a few of," he said.

He said one container was blasted out so far that its charred remains actually landed in the middle of the road.

Beyond the explosions, Finley said there were also concerns about the amount of thick, dark smoke that was pouring out from the fire.

"We didn't realize what type of smoke it was, whether it was anything hazardous or if it was just common smoke, so we had the highway shut down for that reason," he said.

All lanes of Oklahoma Avenue/Highway 412 were closed between the 3700 and 4700 blocks for at least 2 hours while fire crews from Woodward, Mooreland, Sharon, and Fort Supply worked to get the fire under control and extinguished.

With the fire mostly extinguished, 2 of the lanes were opened by around 3 p.m. to allow traffic to once again flow through and by 5 p.m. all lanes of traffic were opened.



CAUSE OF FIRE

"The cause of the fire is under investigation right now.  We're suspecting there was some welding activity going on, but we want to get with the property owners and double check and verify some things," Finley told The News during an interview at the scene around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

He said he spoke with some employees who said that there had been some welding going on about 30 minutes prior to the fire being reported.

However, the company president said he thinks the cause might have been electrical.

"We think that probably, due to the popping that our employee heard, it was more than likely electrical," Martin said in a telephone interview with The News around 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Martin added that in the area where the employee saw the fire start, "that's where a bunch of electrical wiring comes in."

However, Finley said that the sound of popping isn't always definitive when trying to determine a fire's cause.

"When it comes to popping, any kind of material that is under pressure will pop," the assistant fire said.  "Plastic will pop. Circuits will pop; as the coating on wiring melts off from the heat, the circuits will just break.  Light bulbs pop. Gas cans pop.  So it's difficult to narrow down what popping might be."

But he said that an electrical cause "is surely a possibility."

Finley told The News that he plans to do some additional investigation at the scene Thursday to try to get a better handle on how the fire started.



AN OLDER BUILDING

While he applauded the "fantastic" response of local firefighters in "getting the fire contained and extinguished quickly," Martin said the structure was "pretty much a total loss."

"But the big deal is that no one was hurt and the property damage, other than the structure itself, was minimal," he said.

He noted that other than the small foreman's office "there was not a lot in there besides our welding-related items and the miscellaneous tools that weren't out in use in the field."

So while the shop's destruction is a loss for the company, Martin said, "It's not going to have much effect on our day-to-day operations, just going to be an inconvenience for a while."

Built in the 1970s, Martin said the welding shop was the oldest structure on the Diamond Services campus, which also includes an office building, a wash facility, and a "brand new" maintenance building.  

However, since these other structures on the Diamond Services property were located to the west of the welding shop, they weren't damaged by the fire, which was fueled by a wind that was blowing to the southeast.

But a vehicle parked in the Titan Drilling lot just to the east of the Diamond welding shop wasn't as lucky and did sustain some fire damage, according to both Martin and Finley.

Diamond Services has been operating in Woodward for 54 years and "this is the first ever catastrophic event we've had," Martin said.

"I definitely want to credit the fire departments and city workers involved and Northwestern Electric for their quick response.  They were courte