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Weetabix blaze started with cereal dust

Author : Paul Gay

13 August 2010

Cereal dust trapped in machinery ducting was the cause of a fire on the fifth floor of the Weetabix plant in Clinton, Massachusetts, which was set alight towards the end of the evening shift on August 4th. Around 40 firefighters tackled the blaze as 45 employees evacuated the building. The plant was shut down for 48 hours while the damage was repaired and machinery cleaned.

The fire started on the fifth floor of the Weetabix building
The fire started on the fifth floor of the Weetabix building

Speaking to the local newspaper – the Worcester Telegram & Gazette – Clinton’s fire chief, Richard Hart, said he planned to speak to the company about improving duct cleaning procedures. “Cereal dust is a problem,” he told the Gazette. “It’s fine and dry and doesn’t take much of a flame to ignite. It goes right through those ovens. All kinds of things contribute to a kind of hazardous situation there.”

There have been a number of similar fires at the plant in recent years. Seven fires have been reported in the local paper since 1992 but none as serious as this month's incident. No injuries were reported following the blaze but three fire crews were called because the high heat and humidity made it impossible for firefighters to work long stints.

The factory started production in Clinton in 1936, and is the town’s second largest employer. It produces a range of breakfast cereals including Weetabix and Alpen. The company’s headquarters in the UK at Burton Latimer near Kettering in Northamptonshire suffered a fire in January 2008. The fire had broken out in a storage silo that contained cereal flakes of breakfast biscuits. An investigation found that a quantity of dust from products made at the factory was inside an extractor on a hopper and was ignited by mechanical sparks. Two firefighting crews attended the Weetabix factory and dealt with blaze within three hours of being called.

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