8/28/2003 10:47:00 AM
Grain Dust Caused Explosion
House-Autry Mills was back in operation a day after an explosion
shut the plant down and resulted in an evacuation, President and
CEO Roger Mortenson said.
Mr. Mortenson said it appears that grain dust created the explosion
in a room where grain and corn are washed. “It was a piece
of equipment that was transmitting the grain dust,” Mr.
“We think something somehow caused a spark. It’s
very hot and creates its own friction I guess.
Something just created a spark and there was an explosion, but
it was limited to just that one thing,” he said. The explosion
knocked down wall panels that were designed to blow out, he said.
“The room was designed with blowout panels, and they did
their job,” Mr. Mortenson said.
The explosion occurred about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. No one was hurt.
About 50 workers were evacuated from the building while fire departments
from Four Oaks, Smithfield and Benson put out a fire caused by
The explosion activated sprinklers that kept the fire confined
to one room, according to Mr. Mortenson.
After water was swept and vacuumed, operations continued without
a piece of equipment damaged in the blast, Mr. Mortenson said.
“We were able to circumvent that piece of equipment and
we will get it repaired, replaced and certainly look at making
sure we do things so such an incident happening again is not probable,”
he said. “We will try to reduce all the possibilities of
it happening again.”
Mr. Mortenson said an explosion hazard is usually associated
with grain dust. House-Autry manufactures breaders, corn meals,
hush puppy mix and biscuit and cornbread mixes. “Anytime
you are transmitting grain, there is always dust,” he said.
“I know from working in this business and from reading in
the paper that grain dust, flour or corn dust does cause explosions.”
Mr. Mortenson said the damage to the equipment was probably about
$10,000 although an insurance adjuster had not yet examined the
mill. “I think it’s fairly minimal,” he said.
House-Autry employs about 60 people. The mill closed down its
facility in Newton Grove and re-opened its Four Oaks facility
in 2001, after 188 years in Sampson County. House-Autry’s
growth means it can’t lose a day of operations, Mr. Mortenson
“We are just happy that it was minimized and we are back
in business,” he said. “We are in 25 states and we
are growing all the time, so we have to be back doing what we