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19 Injured in Foundry Furnace Explosion

June 22, 1995

WARSAW, Ind. (AP) _ An iron furnace blew up at a foundry Thursday and hurled 2,600-degree molten metal at workers ``like a shotgun blast,″ burning off clothing and flesh. Nineteen people were injured, five critically.

William Slone, an employee, was 50 feet away when the furnace exploded at Dalton Foundries Inc. at about 2:45 a.m. He saw three of the worst injured as they fled.

``When they came out the door, their skin was hanging off, their clothes were burned off, some looked like they had teeth knocked out,″ Slone said. ``One of them, all that was left was the collar from his shirt, and he was burned from the knees down.″

Investigators said that a small explosion caused by moisture in the furnace ruptured a water line, dousing the molten metal with a larger amount of water and triggering a much larger blast.

``It’s a liquid metal,″ said Fire Chief Ken Shepherd, whose crews put out the flames with chemicals and sand. ``Putting water on it is like putting dynamite on it. The water is more of a hazard than the metal.″

Five workers were reported in very critical condition and another was in stable condition at the burn unit at St. Joseph Medical Center in Fort Wayne, about 40 miles to the east.

Paramedic Chris Fancil said he treated a man with second-degree burns over 90 percent of his body.

``His pants had actually burned through,″ he said. ``They were crisp. ... They were pretty well melted. They were jeans, and they became almost like paper. He had skin hanging from every part of his body.″

The workers ``were peppered like a shotgun blast″ by chunks of melted metal, said Slone, who was knocked down and burned on the arm. He said the iron was about 2,600 degrees.

``It was just a large explosion, like a very large amount of TNT,″ he said.

About 150 to 200 people were on duty at the time.

``It’s one of the unfortunate things with an accident like this, there’s no warning whatsoever,″ said plant security chief Bob Robinson. ``Just, boom, then it’s all over.″

The 85-year-old foundry, which covers about four city blocks, makes iron castings from scrap metal. With 700 employees, it produces large compressor housings for refrigeration equipment and parts for utility pipelines.

Dalton President Ken Davidson said damage was largely confined to one furnace and production will resume Sunday night.

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