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VIDEO: Explosion at South Los Angeles Titanium Storage Warehouse for Golf Club Manufacturing

Thu July 15 2010 6:07 am
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TV Video news team from Los Angeles catches titanium explosion and firefighters hosing down a fire engine to protect it from exposure to intense heat.

A fire and explosion at a titanium storage warehouse at 731 or 761 E. Slauson Ave, Los Angeles blew pieces of molten titanium shrapnel into the air, and injured three firefighters and a newsman. The fire destroyed at least six buildings.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the burning commercial structure housing United Alloys and Metals just before midnight Tuesday, which was followed by an explosion about 12:25 a.m. Wednesday that caused minor burns to two firefighters and a news videographer. Another firefighter also suffered hearing damage. One other explosion also occurred.

When exposed to elevated temperatures in air, titanium readily reacts with oxygen. This occurs at 1,200 °C (2,190 °F) in air, and at 610 °C (1,130 °F) in pure oxygen, forming titanium dioxide. As a result, the metal cannot be melted in open air since it burns before the melting point is reached. Melting is only possible in an inert atmosphere or in a vacuum.

Titanium can react explosively when contacted with water or even humid air.

Fire crews had to wait for the titanium to burn itself out, since putting water on an alloy like titanium cause flames to flare up, fire officials said.

Titanium can catch fire when a fresh, non-oxidized surface comes in contact with liquid oxygen. Such surfaces can appear when the oxidized surface is struck with a hard object, or when a mechanical strain causes the emergence of a crack. This poses the possible limitation for its use in liquid oxygen systems, such as those found in the aerospace industry.

As a powder or in the form of metal shavings, titanium metal poses a significant fire hazard and, when heated in air, an explosion hazard. Water and carbon dioxide-based methods to extinguish fires are ineffective on burning titanium. Class D dry powder fire fighting agents are used on small fires. If a fire is too big, there might not be enough Class D dry powder to extinguish the fire, which is then allowed to burn out while firefighters protect surrounding buildings that are exposed to the fire. Experts recommend that tanker trucks or rail cars containing titanium powder that are involved in fire be evacuated for one-half mile in all directions. Titanium fires also produce irritating, corrosive and toxic gases, and inhalation of the decomposition products in the gases can cause severe injury and death.

The type of titanium store in warehouse has not been released. The cause of the titanium fire is under investigation.

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