Fire chief: Dust caused pellet company explosion

The East Providence fire chief says dust was the cause of an explosion and four-alarm fire at a wood pellet company.

The explosion and fire happened Tuesday at Inferno Wood Pellets Co. on 275 Ferris Ave. was reported at about 2:35 p.m.

One worker was injured. Chief Oscar Elmasian of the East Providence Fire Department said he was thrown 20 feet because of the explosion and suffered first- and second-degree burns. The worker was transported to Rhode Island Hospital and released.

"Upon arrival of the first two companies, it was confirmed it was a dust explosion. We had heavy fire in the middle portion of the building. We quickly went to four alarms due to the complexity of the business that is run here because of the pellet company, and also the size of the building," Elmasian said.

Fire crews from Seekonk, Providence, Pawtucket, Warren and Barrington also responded to the blaze.

Elmasian said the fire was tough to put out because of the flammable material inside and the building's location.

At one point, firefighters were ordered out of the factory when part of the building's roof collapsed.

Several people heard the explosion and ran outside to find out what happened.

"There was a lot of white smoke coming out of the building at first, and all the alarms were going off. So I called 911, talked to the fire department, and they didn't even realize what was going on, and when they got out here, I came down to the end of the road to stop traffic from coming into the street," said Stephen Oliveria, who works as a security guard at a nearby building. "I dismissed it to be an explosion at first and I thought one of the towers just fell over. But then I looked and all of the towers were there and just smoke."

Neighbor John Crawford told NBC 10 that about a year ago, he saw fire trucks race up and down to the plant almost daily.

"This has been ongoing. They'd be coming and showing up here at the plant," he said.

Crawford told NBC 10 that he wrote a detailed e-mail to the former East Providence fire chief in September 2012 about his safety concerns.

"(The former chief) responded to me pretty promptly and just tried to alleviate my concerns and just say, you know, 'They've installed a state-of-the-art system over there. You shouldn't be too concerned about it.' But as you can see with what happened today, it's a definite concern over there," he said.

Jacque Moakler-Wendel said she's one of the many partners who used to operate Narragansett Pellet, the plant's former name.

"They made the fire codes very tough for us. They absolutely hid behind the fire codes in order to put us out of business. We had to declare bankruptcy thanks to the fire codes," she said.

Moakler-Wendel said she was surprised that the new owners were able to afford to bring the building up to code and receive a license to operate.