LEWISBURG — All employees evacuated safely from Playworld after the playground equipment manufacturer’s plant in Buffalo Township, Union County, caught fire Tuesday.
Central Susquehanna Regional 911 dispatched fire crews at 11:51 a.m. to the plant at 1000 Buffalo Road, Route 192. The incident was first reported by the building’s automatic fire alarm and confirmed one minute later when someone inside the facility reported an active fire, according to Assistant Chief J.R. Young of William Cameron Engine Company.
A cause and point of origin weren’t immediately available. Trooper Jim Nizinski, state police fire marshal, was investigating. Information broadcast by the 911 center indicated a commercial oven caught fire.
Flames burned through the roof at the plant’s rear end, causing a partial collapse. Thick gray smoke billowed skyward from the roof and open garage bay doors. A scent of burning plastic permeated the scene. Several small explosions were heard inside the building, which Young attributed to propane tanks used for forklifts.
Firefighters from at least three counties helped extinguish the blaze. Five aerial firefighting trucks aimed water at the roof and other points from three sides. Natural gas was turned off to the building and oxygen and nitrogen tanks were secured, Young said.
An interior attack was abandoned as the scene worsened. Once the fire was under control roughly two-and-a-half hours after dispatch, an interior attack resumed. The fire was extinguished at about 4 p.m.
“There was a collapse of the roof so we immediately pulled everybody out,” Young said as the fire was under control. “We’re going to go back in where it’s safe to go in.”
Two first responders suffered non-life-threatening injuries, Young said.
Flames were prevented from spreading beyond the shipping and manufacturing portion of the plant, estimated at 260,000 square feet, according to information on the Union County GIS website. The building has multiple firewalls and fire doors that likely aided in keeping the fire from spreading into the adjacent offices, Young said.
“It was pretty challenging with the size of the building, how deep the fire was inside the building,” Young said, adding that the temperatures topping 80 degrees Fahrenheit and noticeable humidity added to the difficulties firefighters faced.
A plant manager on the scene who didn’t provide his name estimated 120 employees were in the building at the time the fire occurred. He said there was no fire suppression system in the immediate area of the fire and referred additional questions to the company’s corporate office.
David Sheedy, Playworld’s vice president of global sales, said Tuesday afternoon that it was too early to say for how long the plant might be shuttered. He said the fire’s cause was unknown and declined to answer additional questions as information was still being gathered.
“Our first concern is always the safety of our employees and we are relieved and happy to report that all of our employees were evacuated safely and without injury,” Sheedy said, adding an expression of gratitude to first responders on the scene.
First responders from Mifflinburg, Milton, Shamokin Dam, New Berlin, Middleburg, Hummels Wharf, Kreamer, Danville, Montoursville, Kratzerville, Penns Creek and White Deer Township fire departments were among the multiple fire and emergency medical service crews who responded to the scene.