Gunfire sparks blaze at ammunition plant

April 23, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

LEETOWN, W.Va. - Gunfire sparked a building fire at an ammunition plant near Leetown Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

A worker at the ACTIV Industries was performing a ballistics test in the company's lab when a round "flashed" while being fired, said Luis Andres Perez, vice president of ACTIV Industries.

The lab has a firing range where rounds are fired from a pedestal into a small opening into a room within the room to protect the workers.

"It was a freak flash on one of the shells we were shooting," Perez said.

The shot from the gun sent hot sparks into the wall next to the opening, said Assistant Fire Chief Donald Longerbeam of the Independent Fire Co.


The worker left without realizing a spark was smoldering in the wall, Longerbeam said.

The fire apparently smoldered in the wall for some time and when a door was later opened, it provided enough oxygen to fuel the blaze, Longerbeam said.

The fire raced up the interior wall and into the ceiling, burning insulation, Longerbeam said.

"There was a lot of smoke," Perez said.

As soon as the fire flared up, alarms went off and the plant was evacuated, Perez said. About 15 workers were at the plant.

Workers also removed valuable equipment from the lab to a safer area, Perez said.

About 15 to 18 firefighters from Citizens, Independent, Shepherdstown, W.Va., Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Baker Heights, W.Va., fire companies responded to the blaze, Longerbeam said.

Firefighters were concerned because the plant manufactures shotgun shells and other ammunition.

Shotgun shells were in the lab, but none went off during the fire, Longerbeam said.

The lab is outside of the main plant, connected by a door, but separated by a metal wall, Longerbeam said.

The metal and concrete lab is also separated from the powder magazine, located about 100 feet away in a separate block building, Perez said.

Only small amounts of gunpowder kept in special containers are housed in the main building, Perez said.

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