Hop plant explosion in downtown Yakima leaves worker critically injured

YAKIMA, Wash. - One worker was critically injured in a Friday afternoon explosion at a hop extraction plant in Yakima's downtown industrial section, authorities said.

The man, whose name was not released, was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Doors and windows on the Hopstract warehouse were blown out, and three other workers were sent to Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center for what firefighters described as minor injuries.

A cloud of carbon dioxide was sent into the air, but it quickly dissipated as it blew to the west from the plant, which sits on the northeast corner of Second and Lincoln avenues. The carbon dioxide is used in the hop extraction process.

Grace Snodgrass, the office manager at Buchanan Warehouse, across D Street from the hops plant, said she was at her desk when she heard a noise that "almost sounded like a bomb."

"I actually thought that somebody had hit our building, it was that loud," Snodgrass said.

Firefighters responded about 2 p.m. to an initial report of a possible struc-ture fire. Police quickly closed off surrounding streets when they learned gas had been released. Carbon dioxide isn't caustic, but enough of it can displace oxygen.

Lt. Joe Chinco of the Yakima Fire Department said firefighters had to remove the most seriously wounded patient from the building after the explosion.

Battalion Chief Tom Sevigny said the man spent three or four minutes in the oxygen-depleted blast zone before firefighters found him. The man's injuries were severe enough that he would not have been able to bring himself out of the building, Sevigny said, describing his condition as "critical but stable."

"The guys went in there to do a search and it was really dangerous," Sevigny said.

Chinco said the area of the explosion contains three or four tanks, includ-ing the one that apparently failed. He said he did not have more details on the cause of the explosion.

The blast blew a small door across the street and ruptured a larger bay door, as well as breaking upper-story windows.

"There's considerable structural damage," Chinco said.

A spray of yellow hop residue was blown into the street, and several workers in the crowd gathered outside the plant had the same dust covering their jumpsuits.

Second Avenue in front of the plant was closed for several hours while firefighters waited for all of the tanks to drain.

A Pacific Power lineman shut down power to a circuit that serves 26 surrounding businesses, then disconnected the fuses that serve the plant, Sevigny said. Power was then restored for the other businesses.

He said he expected Hopstract to be shut down until the damaged area can be repaired. The state Department of Labor and Industries, the Yakima Health District and a building inspector will also need to investigate, he said.

Employees declined to be interviewed at the scene, and a company representative could not be reached by phone.

Hopstract, also known as Hops Extract Corporation Of America, has been incorporated in Washington since 1963.