Blast at aerospace plant leads to major damage, 5 injuries

NEWPORT, Wash. (AP) — A "very significant" explosion rocked an aerospace plant in northeast Washington, toppling large pieces of machinery, lifting an entire floor off its foundation and seriously injuring five people, authorities said.

The sheer power of the blast Tuesday night and the shrapnel it created caused the majority of the damage, and little to no fire ignited at Zodiac Aerospace in Newport, a city near the Idaho border, Brian Schaeffer, assistant chief of the Spokane Fire Department who responded to the scene, said early Wednesday.

"The energy from that explosion went through that building almost like a tidal wave and destroyed or impacted everything in its path," he said, adding that it collapsed multiple places in the large commercial building and peeled open huge metal roll-up doors.

Thirty people were inside but most escaped with help from emergency systems that worked properly, including a sprinkler system, he said. Two people were critically injured and three seriously injured, whether from the pressure of the blast or penetrating injuries from shrapnel, Schaeffer said.

Two victims went to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. One was in critical condition in intensive care and the other was in the orthopedic unit in satisfactory condition, according to an administrative supervisor.

The blast stemmed from vapors released during chemical manufacturing, but there was no more danger to the surrounding area, said Schaeffer, who responded with a hazardous-materials team.

But officials were trying to stop runoff from reaching a river after water lines ruptured and the sprinkler system activated and then broke, prompting concerns that the water mixed with chemicals, he said. Several thousand gallons of water per minute were flowing after the blast, but much of the water likely was absorbed into the ground, Schaeffer said.

Zodiac Aerospace reportedly makes aircraft interiors at the Newport facility. Calls to the plant rang unanswered Wednesday morning.

Schaeffer said he was told the plant is one of the largest employers for the town about an hour southwest of Spokane and there were concerns the economic impact to the area could be substantial.

Volunteer firefighter Christopher Demlow told Spokane news station KHQ-TV that the blast shook his home, located three blocks from the plant.

"It shook every window in the house," he said in an on-air interview. "We saw a big plume of smoke coming up from the factory area."