Trailer containing magnesium catches fire, explodes

UPDATE

Trailer containing magnesium catches fire, explodes

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A look at the tractor-trailers the next day shows just how much damage the fire did to their metal frame. A look at the tractor-trailers the next day shows just how much damage the fire did to their metal frame.
(Cesar Vazquez Ramos) (Cesar Vazquez Ramos)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Firefighters battled a tough trailer fire and explosion Friday night in east Kansas City after dangerous chemicals were found inside.

A tractor-trailer containing magnesium ignited about 11:30 p.m. Friday at 12th Street and Jackson Avenue. Before crews could get the fire knocked down, the flames spread to a second trailer. Both were detached.

Firefighters quickly realized the trailer contained magnesium, a chemical that can make fighting the flames much more dangerous.

"Whenever you have a hazardous material, it is extremely dangerous to firefighters," said James Garrett, the public information officer for the Kansas City Fire Department.

Garrett said the fire posed an extra danger because the magnesium was not labeled. Crews were surprised when the water they sprayed it with didn't work.

"First of all, one, it's very reactive with water, so there's a great possibility of it spreading by throwing water on it. That's one of our primary problems we have with putting out a magnesium fire," Garrett said.

A similar chemical explosion killed six Kansas City firefighters in 1988. The incident led to new requirements about chemical labeling. Garrett says not labeling the substance was illegal and could have been a tragedy.

A look at the tractor-trailers the next day showed the flames burnt out their metal siding, leaving half-standing structures. Bystanders say the bright, white flames shot more than 30 feet into the air.

"This is some of the debris that come from the fire last night," said Charon Washington as she pointed at the thin layer of ash that still covers her car. "Some of it's all over the place."

Washington lives a few blocks away, but says the explosion shook her house.

"It brightened up the whole block… light, just bright, like daylight," she said. "It was real scary, too, I mean real scary. We've never seen anything like that before in our lives."

David Potts saw the fire from his house, too. He said he'd just been watching fireworks, and the sparks and explosion looked a lot like what he'd seen all night.

"It looked just like what we'd been lighting off for the Fourth of July, just little things going off. I thought it was a fireworks stand that had gone haywire or something," he said.

Fortunately, none of the firefighters were hurt. Officials are investigating what actually started the fire.

While it's unknown at this time exactly what the magnesium was being stored for, officials say it is an element used in fireworks. Magnesium burns a very bright white, so it is used to add white sparks or improve the overall brilliance of a firework.

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