As the second safety investigation in a year and a half into the Wrigley Plant on Jersey Pike nears conclusion, workers were forced to evacuate Wednesday night when a fire broke through the factory's roof.
Employees told firefighters they heard an explosion then saw flames erupt as the dust collection system in the rear of the plant caught on fire, according to Bruce Garner, public information officer for the Chattanooga Fire Department.
"There was a pretty decent fire inside, and any time flames break through the roof it's a big deal," he said. "[The fire department] did a great job stopping the fire and preventing it from spreading to the rest of the plant."
The plant manager told Garner he believes the fire was fueled by some starches used at the candy plant, though the fire investigation is ongoing.
Firefighters received the alarm around 6:45 p.m., and eight fire companies arrived to fight the blaze. It took them about 45 minutes to get the fire under control. Battalion Chief Fredrick Blake said a fire suppression system at the factory was activated and helped suppress the fire until firefighters arrived.
Though ambulances moved to the scene, paramedics were not needed, as no injuries resulted from the fire.
As firefighters completed their work, Wrigley employees stood in clumps around the parking lot wearing their blue work pants, orange vests and hairnets. They were laughing and making jokes at one another, until they began to file back into the plant around 8 p.m.
Plant Manager Jim Fitzgerald told Garner it may take a while to assess the damage and determine what kind of impact this incident will have on operations.
Wrigley has struggled at its Chattanooga plant to maintain a clean safety record.
Worker Wallace Scarbro was crushed by a machine in early February.
At the time, TOSHA spokeswoman Jennifer Farrar said an investigation could take several months to conclude, as investigators will inspect any machinery involved.
In October 2013, another worker, Rachael Creel Chitwood, also died in an industrial accident at the plant.
A TOSHA investigation found nine safety violations. The plant was cited for things that included flammable liquids, portable fire extinguishers and wiring methods and use of equipment.
The plant was also cited in 2005 for safety issues.
Contact staff writer Kendi Andersonat firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.