Thursday, October 2, 2003

Two firefighters killed in New Knoxville

Dust silo at lumber company explodes; 9 people injured

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

NEW KNOXVILLE, Ohio - An explosion inside a silo at a lumber company in western Ohio killed two firefighters and injured nine other people Wednesday, authorities said.

The explosion just before 9 a.m. happened about two hours after firefighters were called about a fire in the concrete silo at Hoge Lumber Co.

The company's buildings sit on the edge of New Knoxville, a village of about 900 people, 50 miles north of Dayton.

Killed were two New Bremen firefighters who were hosing down dust inside the 75-foot tall silo to avoid an explosion. They were either standing on top of the structure or in an aerial bucket, said New Knoxville Fire Chief Scott Schroer.

"What we had here was a dust silo that feeds the boiler for the lumber company," he said. "They've had fires in these before."

Kenneth Jutte was one of those killed, said Auglaize County Coroner Dr. Thomas Freytag.

The second firefighter died at St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima, said hospital spokeswoman Brenda Burgy.

She did not know his name.

Two other firefighters were taken by helicopter to St. Rita's, Burgy said.

It wasn't clear how many other firefighters were injured. Some employees also were hurt. Schroer did not know the extent of the other injuries.

The blast blew off the top of the silo, hurling chunks of concrete across the road into a cemetery about 100 yards away.

"It sounded like somebody had dropped a boulder or something on our home," said Nancy Buscher, 51, who lives a couple of houses away.

Buscher, a nurse, said she helped treat two employees who were injured.

One was cut on the back by flying concrete.

Seven people were taken to Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys, said hospital spokeswoman Carrie Widman. One was later flown to St. Rita's, she said.

Wallace Watt, 84, who lives next door to the lumber company, said smoke poured from the silo after the explosion.

"It was rolling out like a white cloud," he said.

Clark Froning, a co-owner of Hoge Lumber, said the silo was filled with wood shavings and sawdust.

He would not talk about what caused the explosion.

Fire departments from New Knoxville, New Bremen, Wapakoneta and St. Marys Township responded.

New Bremen Fire Chief Bob Kuck said some other of his firefighters were hurt, but he did not know how badly.

The family-owned lumber company touts itself as the world's largest maker of wood bowling lanes and has been in business since 1904.

It also makes cabinetry and building supplies.

It recycles wood chips and other byproducts that are fed into its generator that supplies power to the plant and all of the village.

The explosion did not affect power in the village.

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