It happened again and company officials are trying to understand how the maker of AirHeads and AirHeads Extremes suffered its third sugar silo blast in 12 years.
The explosion occurred one month ago on Jan. 10 in Erlanger, KY, in a sugar silo at Perfetti Van Melle factory.
The blast was so loud, workers at Brown’s Transmission nearby thought at first something might have crashed into their building.
“You could just feel the whole entire building rattle and shake,” said Aime Roberts, who was at Brown’s Transmission. “We all just kind of froze.”
They went out the back and the front to see if anything had slammed into the outside walls.
That’s when they saw a plume of smoke and smelled the odor of burned sugar.
Employees followed the safety plan and evacuated right away, said company’s Chief Executive, Mahmet Yuksek.
“We’re trying to understand what exactly happened,” Yuksek said. “But the good news is, everybody’s accounted for, everybody’s safe.”
Sugar silos have built-in safeguards where there are relief points on top of the containers designed to release the pressure buildup into the atmosphere instead of causing an explosion. Those relief points minimize damage from such explosions.
At any given time, there are 60 to 70 workers making the AirHeads and AirHeads Extremes candy at Perfetti Van Melle.
Fire crews from nearby Point Pleasant heard the blast and knew something was up.
Their investigators spent the afternoon hours with company engineers trying to pinpoint the spark.
“There was a fire, just the product itself that was inside the silo itself was burning,” said Fire Chief Michael Giordano. “It was more of a flash fire that went out relatively quickly.”
There were no injuries in the incident.
Investigators are not sure if static electricity, a recurring problem at silos when product ends up off-loaded, played a part in what happened Tuesday.
The center bulk silo will remain inactive while the work goes on to see if they need any additional procedures.
Giordano praised company executives and staff for following their evacuation procedures to the letter, accounting for all workers as fire crews pulled up.
In December 2015, the company suffered another silo explosion.
Flames were shooting out of the plant during the three-alarm fire.
“Anytime you’re dealing with any kind of dust or whatever, you have a chance of explosion – that’s always a hazard in that kind of operation; there’s all kinds of dust hazards – this just happens to involve a sugar product,” Point Pleasant Fire Department Asst. Chief Bill Martin said at the time.
In 2003, a static charge sparked an explosion and the roof caught fire. The blast blew off the back wall of the plant and injured one worker, but he survived. The factory reopened the next day. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration found no violations during a safety investigation conducted the same month.
Perfetti Van Melle is an international candy maker headquartered in Italy. The Erlanger factory manufactures Airheads candy for all North American markets, as well as Mentos mints and other confections.