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Silo fire interrupts coal-loading operation

By:  Sta Beacon - Mark Todd

ASHTABULA — Tuesday morning’s silo fire has crippled boat-loading operations at the Norfolk Southern Railway coal facility at the mouth of the Ashtabula River, according to an NS spokesman.

The fire burned a conveyor belt that brings coal from the silo to Great Lakes vessels, Rudy Husband said Wednesday. Coal can be unloaded from rail cars and stored at the facility, but it cannot be loaded onto boats, he said.

Husband said he does not know when repairs will be complete and could not provide a dollar estimate of the damage.

The fire started accidentally because of a mechanical failure, said Capt. Gerald Senger of the Ashtabula Fire Department. As a result of the malfunction, a conveyor belt in the gigantic silo began to burn, he said.

Flames consumed a large amount of the belt system inside the silo and also caused some structural damage, Senger said.

“The belt system was a big part (of the damage),” he said. “There was a huge amount of damage.”

Fire did not touch an estimated 4,000 tons of coal inside the building, Senger said.

No injuries resulted from the fire, which was reported at 5:40 a.m. Some 40 firefighters from six departments spent hours at the scene.

Coal at the storage site is earmarked to power plants and cement producers in Canada and the Great Lakes basins, according to the NS Web site. Annual capacity is 7 million tons, according to the site.

Bituminous coal from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia arrives at Ashtabula aboard trains. The cargo either is stored on site or loaded directly onto vessels, according to the Web site.

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