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Firefighters wait for magnesium to burn out at a fire in Meridian Magnesium Products of America in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, May 2.
Photo by Matthew Dae Smith at the Lansing State Journal

No cause was found in the explosion that set off two more explosions at an automotive manufacturing facility in Eaton Rapids, MI, in early May, Eaton Rapids Fire Chief Roger McNutt said.

McNutt concluded his investigation into the May 2 series of explosions at Meridian Magnesium last week.

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The incident severely damaged the facility’s roof, forced portions of the complex to close, led to employee layoffs and temporarily halted vehicle production for some U.S. automakers, including the Ford F-150.

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“As far as I’m concerned the case is closed,” McNutt said. 

An incident report, obtained by the Lansing State Journal, includes details from the day of the explosions, but not any details in the days since. A separate one-page police report mentions minor damage to a patrol car at the plant caused by “flying shrapnel.” 

McNutt said he doesn’t plan to compile more reports about the incident because he can only go by what Meridian employee said they saw when the explosions started about 2 a.m. May 2. 

The three explosions caused $4 million in damage to the building at 2001 Industrial Drive and another $4 million in damage to its contents, according to the report. The building was valued at $8 million before the incident and had $7 million worth of machinery and other contents. 

McNutt said the first explosion started in an unoccupied tunnel near the north end of Meridian Magnesium’s main plant. McNutt said he entered the main plant about 15 minutes before an area near the tunnel exploded.

“Everything was all burned up and gone,” said McNutt, when asked if there were any traces of evidence upon his arrival. 

McNutt described Meridian Magnesium’s evacuation plan as “flawless.” He said the incident could’ve been much worse because the only area of the entire complex that caught fire after the explosions was the main plant’s roof. 

Messages left with Meridian Magnesium officials weren’t returned. 

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation immediately following the May 2 incident and it will take “several weeks or months” to complete, spokesperson Jeannie Vogel said. 

The Michigan State Police also investigates major fires, but spokeswoman Lori Dougovito said Monday the agency hasn’t had any involvement in the Eaton Rapids investigation. 

When fire officials arrived at Meridian Magnesium’s main plant at 1:37 a.m. May 2 they were informed by an employee of an “explosion in the tunnel,” according to the report. The report also said officials entered the complex and saw a “white glow” in the tunnel at the bottom of a “scrap conveyor.” 

Officials then noticed the same white glow in a maintenance room from the bottom of a scrap conveyor before they found water flowing through the sprinkler system’s pipes, according to the report. 

The report states one employee was injured by debris that was ejected from the plant; another told officials he was “thrown through the air and hit a door jam on the way out of the building.” 

McNutt said May 2 those employees suffered minor injuries and were briefly hospitalized.

Fire officials initially said a fire at the Meridian Magnesium complex caused the explosions. McNutt said Monday explosions started the only fire, a blaze on the main plant’s roof.

Officials didn’t try to extinguish any flames because of the molten magnesium in the area, McNutt said. 

The report mentions a roof in the “re-melt building” that caught fire and burned, and three machines that contained “ten thousand pounds of molten mag in them.”

McNutt said he was able to gain entry for the first time to the portion of the building where the fire began on May 14; previous attempts had been unsuccessful because of the amount of debris.

Meridian Magnesium officials were allowed back into portions of the building within days of the fire to assess damage and determine which portions of the 200,000 square foot facility were operable.

Company officials have told employees they want to rebuild the facility in four months. McNutt said the company’s timeline is reasonable and that he will monitor the rebuilding work closely to see if it meets building code standards.

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