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Sparks ignite cocoa residue in Centralia cake-mix factory

A Southern Illinois cake mix facility caught fire Saturday morning after sparks from malfunctioning utilities ignited cocoa residue.

At 8:55 a.m. the Centralia Fire Department responded to a fire call at Con Agra, formerly Pinnacle Foods, a manufacturing facility that makes Duncan Hines cake frosting and mixes located at 100 Calumet St.

The fire started after an electric fan in the building shorted out, shooting sparks downward onto cocoa residue-covered rafters and other surfaces, igniting small fires and creating large amounts of smoke, Centralia Fire Captain Michael Calabrese said.

The small fires and smoke took roughly 2 and a half hours to clear out.

Calabrese said cocoa beans, powder and residue can ignite quickly with something as small as a spark.

The fires that follow, he said, can be nasty.

All of the department’s shifts, extra men and the Centralia Fire Assistant District, the area’s volunteer fire service, were called in to assist with the fire.

Calabrese said the building wasn’t seriously damaged and should be back in operation after some cleanup. He said it isn’t the first time the department has had to put out a cocoa fire.

“Cocoa ignites so quickly. It’s just like powder,” he said.

According to the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, when cocoa beans and powder are processed they create a residue called combustible dust. This makes fires with cocoa beans especially dangerous because concentrated dust can cause larger explosions.

“They are dirty, nasty fires. The cocoa gets everywhere,” he said. “Luckily, nobody got hurt.”

Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.


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