GRAMERCY — Firefighters monitored and extinguished hot spots Thursday after a fire Wednesday night that destroyed a petroleum coke storage dome’s wooden roof, St. James Parish officials said.
Parish and town officials said the flames were put out early Thursday at the Rain CII plant on the Mississippi River after multliple fire departments and two fireboats were called to the scene.
Firefighters had to draw from the Mississippi River to muster enough water to put out the fire, officials said.
No one was injured, company and emergency officials said.
Eric Deroche, parish director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said firefighters received the call about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and were able to get water on the roof almost immediately. But it was not enough to douse the fire, he said, so firefighters began pumping water from the river about midnight Thursday.
Deroche said lightning struck the roof, setting it afire. Officials with Rain CII said in a news release Thursday that the fire is under investigation.
“Rain CII’s focus right now is ensuring the safety of its employees and the surrounding communities,” the company said.
It was not immediately clear how long firefighters would remain at the scene to put out hot spots and embers.
“Could be a day or two, or three more days. It all depends, because it is so hard to get to,” Deroche said.
The dome stored the finished product of the plant, calcined petroleum coke. The plant’s kiln can produce 230,000 tons annually, the company says.
The dome is one of two at the site, part of the former Kaiser Aluminum plant in Gramercy. Next-door neighbor Noranda Alumina LLC owns the remainder of the former Kaiser site.
Melissa Wilkins, a parish government spokeswoman, said the plants’ proximity to each other led some to believe that the Noranda plant was on fire, even though it was not.
Deroche said coke at the plant is not hazardous and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials who monitored the air quality found no impact.
Gramercy Mayor Terry Borne said the coke produced at the plant is black, with the consistency of powdered sugar and will not burn except at high temperatures.
Borne said northeast winds blew the fire’s smoke away from town.
Calcined petroleum coke is used to make carbon anodes consumed in the process that turns alumina into aluminum, according to the Rain CII website.
The coke is a byproduct of crude oil refining and is run through a rotary kiln at high temperatures at the plant, the company website says.
Deroche said the finished coke did not catch fire but it remains hot from the rooftop blaze.
He said company officials are working with engineers and crane companies to remove a metal conveyor system at the top of the dome.
Deroche said he did not know when the plant, which employs 28 people, would restart operations.
Rain CII is based in Kingwood, Texas.