Flames subside at vault, construction work to cease for time-being

Published 7:52 am Thursday, June 23, 2016

The vault fire located near River View Townhomes finished burning Wednesday. Construction by UDC on the property will be postponed for the time being until further insight from TDEC.

The vault fire located near River View Townhomes finished burning Wednesday. Construction by UDC on the property will be postponed for the time being until further insight from TDEC.

A substance discovered during construction work off Stonewall Jackson Drive in Elizabethton finished burning from a vault, according to officials.
“Nothing came back from the testing,” said Gary Smith, Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director. “All the residue near the vault, inside the vault … it all burnt up and left no trace of the substance.”
During work Tuesday near River View Townhomes, Elizabethton Fire Department Chief Barry Carrier said that while there was no confirmation – workers on site believed the substance to be carbon disulfide.
“It can be toxic, highly flammable and can be explosive,” Carrier said. “Once that chemical is exposed to the atmosphere … it starts burning. It is a small amount.”
Throughout the digging process, workers from HEPACO discovered what they thought was a second vault. But the structure was a concrete pipe that led into the vault, according to Smith.
“It turned out to not be a second vault,” he said. “Once digging finished, it was a concrete pipe that led into the first vault.”
The incident began Monday when construction by Universal Development & Construction (UDC), based out of Johnson City, was underway and a backhoe struck the underground vault, causing flames to burst out. Workers used chemical extinguishers to surpass the flames. Once the flames died down over the night, the flames appeared once again Tuesday after officials dug the dirt away from the top of the vault.
With the flames no longer an issue, and work continuing on the soil near the vault, Shane Abraham with UDC told the Elizabethton Star that construction, including the grading on the area, for future housing will be postponed for the time being.
“We’re not down that road just yet,” Abraham said about the potential of ending construction work entirely. “Our first move is to be proactive with TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation) on the remediation of the area. We’re going to make sure we do everything we can to make sure the area is safe before continuing work.”
The vault proved as an unknown for Abraham, who said that there hasn’t been any problems in the past with the location that housed the former North American Rayon industry.
“You’re dealing with an that area that was used for industrial work for 100 years,” Abraham said. “Through the seven years we’ve owned the property, and looking through the maps, and from the previous owners … we haven’t had this problem before.”
Abraham said that the problems did not occur when building the current housing complexes are – located behind Wal-Mart and behind Lowe’s in the city. While the incident raised concerns of the residents, Abraham added the officials have done a great job helping out over the past couple of days.
The suspected chemical proves to be unstable but burns out completely once it reaches the air, Smith said.
Abraham thanked the officials for their work over the past two days.
“They’ve done a great job making sure the residents have been safe during this time,” he said. “They’ve been testing the air quality, working to clear any other residential soil, keeping citizens away from the site and everything else. With their help, there wasn’t a need any evacuation. I just want to thank them for their help during this process.”
UDC helped construction a makeshift road for the west side of River View while officials closed off the roadway while working the site.

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