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The fire at Soleras Advanced Coatings in Biddeford, ME, Thursday afternoon started in a container holding 60 pounds of lithium in the center of the building, fire officials said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, said Biddeford Fire Chief Scott Gagne.

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An employee who was transporting the chemical suffered an injury in the blaze and ended up taken to Southern Maine Health Care, Gagne said. There was only minor damage to the building.

The fire was still burning at 2 p.m. Thursday, but the blaze at that point was contained. It took several more hours to get the fire out, Gagne said.

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The firefighting effort was complicated because the department did not have enough soda ash and other materials to extinguish the chemical fire and had to call in support from neighboring towns, York County Emergency Management Agency and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

Eight firefighters who were in the building ended up taken to Southern Maine Health Center for decontamination because of exposure to chemicals, Gagne said.

The building houses products that contain lithium, which requires dry fire extinguishing substances because of the risk of explosion.

When lithium mixes with water, the resulting chemical reaction expels heat and hydrogen, a flammable gas. Even small amounts of lithium, when aflame and mixed with water, can produce a large conflagration.

Lithium is a common substrate used in batteries, including those for storing electricity generated by solar arrays.

Soleras is an international company that manufactures equipment for the glass coatings industry, according to the company’s website.

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