Thomaston cement plant explosion heard 11 miles away

Posted Dec. 23, 2009, at 1:02 p.m.
A worker gets ready to board one of several windows that were shattered on an administrative building at Dragon Cement in Thomaston during an explosion in an old and unused scrubber (not seen in photo) there early Wednesday afternoon, December 23, 2009. In the foreground a roughly 24 square foot section of fiberglass from the scrubber was blown several hundred feet during the explosion and came to rest next to the administrative building. Maine State Fire Marshalls Office continues to investigate.  (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)
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A worker gets ready to board one of several windows that were shattered on an administrative building at Dragon Cement in Thomaston during an explosion in an old and unused scrubber (not seen in photo) there early Wednesday afternoon, December 23, 2009. In the foreground a roughly 24 square foot section of fiberglass from the scrubber was blown several hundred feet during the explosion and came to rest next to the administrative building. Maine State Fire Marshalls Office continues to investigate. (Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ)

THOMASTON, Maine — An explosion at the Dragon Products cement plant at noon Wednesday broke windows, sent chunks of fiberglass flying hundreds of feet into the air and caused a boom that echoed as far away as Union.

No one was injured in the blast, according to Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj.

“Zero casualties,” Haj said from the scene.

A contracting company had been dismantling an old, nonoperative scrubber located on the western side of the Thomaston cement factory when a worker with a cutting torch apparently ignited the fiberglass resin, he said.

“It set it on fire. It smoldered and burned,” the chief said. Then, at just after noon, the tower exploded, sending a powerful shock that broke many windows of the nearby main office building.

Emergency crews from the Thomaston police, fire and rescue departments raced to the Route 1 plant, where billows of black smoke poured out of the scrubber building.

Haj said the timing was fortunate. Dragon employees had been attending a holiday barbecue on the other side of the company campus.

Justin Davis, who normally does information technology work in the main office, said the noise “shook the building” during the lunch gathering.

Sgt. Kevin Grimes of the State Fire Marshal’s Office said the explosion is under investigation. He said investigators came to the plant from Augusta and Portland and hoped to finish examining the scene by dark.

Michael Martunas, the Dragon environmental manager, said he was confident there was no harm to the environment caused by the explosion.

“No releases, no leaks, nothing,” he said.

One Dragon employee used a shovel to clear broken glass from the main office doorway. Just in front of the yellow police line, a roughly 24-square-foot chunk of fiberglass lay in the roadway. Another piece of mangled metal hung from a high window in the factory.

“It looks like a war scene,” said an official who watched the cleanup efforts.

The explosion caused confusion in nearby towns, said Haj, whose office was inundated by calls immediately afterward.

“We heard a horrendous boom,” said a woman who answered the phones at the Union Agway. “It shook the building. We couldn’t imagine what it was.”

Union Center is roughly 11 miles northwest of the site of the plant near the Thomaston-Rockland line.

Alvin Dennison, who sells fish from a truck just across from the cement plant, said the noise was “really loud” and that a Route 1 driver stopped because he thought he had blown a tire.

“There was black smoke,” he said.

Efforts to speak with plant manager Ray DeGrass, who was busy meeting with fire marshal officials, were unsuccessful.

Dragon has made cement at its Thomaston facility since 1928. In 2004, under its current ownership by Cementos Portland and Cementos Lemona of Spain, the plant underwent a $50 million modernization to expand production and convert to a more energy-efficient dry process, according to the company’s Web site.

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