Published Jan. 5, 1998, in The Ledger Independent
Maysville was thrown in to a state of emergency Sunday when a predawn fire broke out at a Cargill Inc., warehouse on Kentucky 10, igniting potentially explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer and prompting the evacuation of thousands of residents on both sides of the Ohio River.
Cargill’s Maysville facility stores and distributes farm chemicals, including fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides but no longer manufactures any of the products locally, Maysville City Manager Dennis Redmond said.
More than 400 tons of ammonium nitrate — one of the ingredients used in making the bomb that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City — was stockpiled in the warehouse, officials said. Unlike the tragic Oklahoma explosion, there was no accelerate to spark a blast in Maysville.
The fire was discovered about 3 a.m., by Maysville Police Officer Matt Gallenstein when he responded to an unrelated care fire at the Knotty Pine Restaurant next to the facility and noticed a fire at Cargill.
“At that time it wasn’t fully engulfed. To me, it appeared to be in the roof,” he said.
The police officer said he had no idea upon first seeing the fire that it was serious.
“When I first arrived, I felt I could have put the fire out,” he said, “It was small and you could tell it was in the ceiling only.”
Gallenstein notified fire and disaster officials. Mason County Disaster and Emergency Services Assistant Coordinator Steve Zweigart immediately realized the potential danger involved and ordered evacuation of residents within a quarter mile of the plants, including Valley View Subdivision, Limestone Apartments and an area west of Kentucky 10. Police and fire officials began going door-to-door, telling residents of the situation and advising them to leave their homes.
The Orangeburg Volunteer Fire Department was the first to arrive on the scene. Within 15 minutes more than 160 volunteers from as many as seven fire companies were on hand to attack the blaze, officials said. The state fire marshal and environmental officials arrive on the scene soon after.
At about 4 a.m., two large explosions ricked the warehouse where the fire burned, causing firefighters to drop back. Although ammonium nitrate is volatile, the first explosion caught firefighters off guard.
“Those explosions were quite a surprise,” said Deputy State Fire Marshal Kenny Johnson. “That’s when we decided our best option was to back out.
The explosion was likely caused by some tanks of propane stored in the warehouse, he said.
Junior Blevins, acting chief of the Orangeburg Fire Department, was slightly injured in the explosion, He was treated and released at the emergency room at Columbia Hospital Maysville.
By 5 a.m., the evacuation had been expanded to include an area within a 1-1/4 mile radius of the plant.
The fire shut down CSX rail lines through Maysville and closed the Ohio River between Maysville and Manchester, Ohio.
Residents began the exodus back to their homes about 4:30 p.m., Sunday