Chief: Fertilizer could’ve made Columbiana Co. fire more dangerous

EAST ROCHESTER, Ohio (WYTV) – Fire investigators dug through the rubble of Hoopes Fertilizer Works in Columbiana County Tuesday, which caught fire Monday evening. Though most of the damage means the business will have to rebuild, one major thing can be saved.

Even though the building is a loss, the rock salt stored there can be saved once the debris is torn down. About 3,000 tons of rock salt was being stored inside the building at the time of the fire.

Hoopes makes 50-pound bags of salt through the winter and starts stocking granular fertilizer in February.

“For firefighting purposes, the rock salt is the easier part to handle versus the spring time when they would be handling fertilizer,” said Sandy Creek Joint Fire District Chief Aaron Stoller.

Burning fertilizer could let off ammonia.

Another danger crews faced Monday night was a rail line running right behind Hoopes as the fire burned.

“We don’t want that to catch a train going by on fire,” Stoller said.

Investigators used a crane to get to where they think the fire started, which is the main packaging area for the salt.

“Did some exterior and interior investigation work, and our job in the fire service is to determine whether the cause was arson, accidental set fire or undetermined,” Stoller said.

A few small fires still burned as they combed through the site.

“A fire creates a distinctive pattern from where it starts to where it grows from there,” Stoller said. “So we look at patterns in the structure, in the wood and anything else that can point us back to the exact cause. And with this building being a wood frame, it makes it difficult.”

Investigators said they need better forensic evidence to pinpoint exactly how the fire started.

The building is burned out and covered in black, but the ground is blue – food coloring that was added to the rock salt.

Stoller said it’s heartbreaking.

“Obviously it’s a local business that suffered a loss. To the community, it’s a close-knit community,” Stoller said.

For now, workers will be able to shift to another Hoopes facility in Alliance.