Fire crews spend hours battling fire at Stockertown cement plant (UPDATE)
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Fire crews spend hours battling fire at Stockertown cement plant (UPDATE)

Jul 16, 2023

Fire crews worked into the early morning Friday fighting a stubborn mulch blaze at a Northampton County cement plant.

Firefighters were called at 7:18 p.m. Thursday to the Buzzi Unicem USA’s Hercules Cement plant, 501 Hercules Drive in Stockertown, and found flames in a huge barn-type structure filled with mulch, Forks Township Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Michael Vinci said.

The mulch had pieces of ground up rubber tires in it, similar to what you may see on a playground, the chief said.

“We had lots of fire when I arrived,” Vinci said, and that included mulch piled up in an electrical room with a conveyor belt behind the structure.

Plant personnel had immediately notified emergency services when smoke was detected coming from the building use to store alternative fuel materials that include wood chips and shredded tires, according to Jennifer Morgan, coordinator of training, development and communications for the company based on Brodhead Road outside Bethlehem in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

The Forks Township fire marshal was called and the cause of the blaze is under investigation, Vinci said.

Staff at the plant have been in contact with the local fire investigator, as well as the federal Mine Safety & Health Administration, Morgan said.

There were no injuries to plant personnel, though the fire damaged the building’s siding and some electrical equipment, she said. The plant did not lose electrical power, and an evaluation is ongoing as to the exact extent of the damages.

“I want to thank all the emergency responders for their quick response and professionalism in getting the fire under control swiftly,” Stockertown Plant Manager Rad Slavov said in a statement.

Fire departments from Nazareth and the townships of Palmer, Plainfield, and Upper Nazareth also responded.

It took two hours to initially knock down the blaze, and then crews started using an auger, front end loader, and a bulldozer to pull everything out and hose it down from ladder trucks, the chief said.

It took a lot of manpower over the six hours, and the chief said they rotated firefighters through jobs. Because of the hot weather, a rehab area was set up to help responders cool down.

A firefighter suffered a minor injury and was checked out by EMS, Vinci said.

Crews faced water supply issues fighting the flames, when the hydrant closest to building was not in service and firefighters had to run hose lines from about a thousand feet away, Vinci said.

Firefighters were at the scene until 1:30 a.m. Friday. There was a minor rekindling at about 7 a.m., the chief added.

Opened in 1916, the Stockertown facility manufactures Portland cement in a dry kiln process, according to Buzzi Unicem.

The Hercules plant employs more than 130 in its cement manufacturing and the associated quarry operations, which are closely regulated by federal and state agencies, the company said; operations are routinely inspected by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and federal Mine Safety & Health officials.

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Sarah Cassi may be reached at [email protected].

Kurt Bresswein may be reached at [email protected].

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