Authorities suspect a ruptured oil line in the basement of the Anchor Glass Container Corp. plant in Henryetta was the cause of a blaze that sent massive flames shooting from the top of the facility Wednesday night.
The fire damaged four of the plant’s six shops where molten glass is shaped, Henryetta Fire Chief David Bullard said, though he said the building is not a complete loss. One of the 75 employees at the plant Wednesday night sustained “heat-related issues,” Bullard said. The man was treated at the scene.
Once the pressurized oil line burst, officials believe a fire made its way to the plant’s glass molding shops, Bullard said. From there, it likely got into the ventilation system, which caused the visible flames at the top of the complex.
“With all the hot, molten glass (nearby), it ignited,” he said.
Bullard said no one he spoke to said there was an explosion, and fire officials did not find debris that would be consistent with one, though witnesses did report hearing a loud boom.
The genesis of the oil line’s rupture, and the overall fire, remained under investigation Thursday.
Sam Hijab, a spokesman for Anchor Glass, said the company expected to resume partial operations by Friday or the weekend. He said the company plans to restore the plant to full capacity, but the timeline for full restoration was unknown.
The Henryetta Fire Department was called about 9 p.m. Wednesday to the plant. Bullard said firefighters didn’t use water until 30 to 45 minutes later because they had to isolate sections of the plant, turning off electricity and gas lines. The blaze was extinguished around midnight.
Other fire departments that responded were from Dewar, Schulter, Wilson and Morris, as well as the Red Cross.
Officials began allowing Anchor employees to enter the plant Thursday morning to begin assessing damage, Bullard said. Tanks that hold molten glass were not damaged, and the packing and shipping area also was spared, he said.
The estimated cost of the damage was not available Thursday. Hijab said the company was still assessing the scope of the loss.
The Anchor Glass plant is a major employer in Henryetta, which had a population of 5,700 in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hijab said the plant employs about 350 people.
Roy Madden, executive director of the Henryetta Chamber of Commerce, said in such a tight-knit town, a company the size of Anchor is a major economic driver.
“They’re part of our fabric, Anchor Glass is,” he said. “Anchor Glass is Henryetta.”
Henryetta Police Chief Steve Norman echoed Madden’s sentiment at a Wednesday night news conference.
“The plant has been here since before I was born,” Norman said. “To pull up to that almost brings tears to your eyes. The plant is an important part of Henryetta ...”
Located an hour south of Tulsa, Henyretta began as an industry-based community, Madden said. According to the city’s website, the town began in 1885 when coal was discovered in nearby creeks. Within the first nine years of its existence, Henryetta had 14 operating coal mines.
In the following two decades, the town claimed 23 industrial plants, including a dozen coal mines, a broom factory, several brick factories and a bottling plant.
The Anchor plant is the last of a few glass plants that used to populate the area, Madden said.
Anchor Glass employs about 1,800 people nationwide, according to Hijab, which means the Henryetta employees represent 19 percent of the company’s workforce.
Anchor’s five other glass manufacturing facilities across the nation are in Shakopee, Minnesota; Lawrenceburg, Indiana; Elmira, New York; Warner Robins, Georgia; and Jacksonville, Florida. Its corporate headquarters is in Tampa, Florida.