Close call as three workers escape 1300C furnace explosion

In case you missed it, three workers had an incredibly lucky escape from the McKechnie Iron Foundry in Gepps Cross, South Australia, last week. Furnace operator Chris Higgins and his two co-workers ran for their lives as a malfunction saw a series of explosions in a furnace that was burning metal at instant-death temperatures of 1300 degrees Celsius.

As the trio were making their quick escape, thick smoke blanketed nearby homes and businesses, while 50 firefighters took action to manage the accident, reducing the likelihood of the reactive burner triggering more explosions.

Photo: Tait Schmaal

It was a collective effort between firefighters and the McKechnie Iron Foundry employees to cautiously move approximately seven tonnes of molten metal to nearby sand piles and cool down the damaged furnace. Luckily for the iron business, three other furnaces were saved in the process.

The sign that something was wrong came when Mr Higgins noticed that metal in the furnace had stopped melted for no apparent reason.

“We were doing our job putting the shredded steel in and somehow it just didn’t seem to be melting,” Mr Higgins told The Advertiser after the traumatic event.

The steel magnets he had placed into the furnace were not going down as they should, subsequently increasing the temperature of the furnace.

“There was explosion noises. We just got told to close the lid and once we did that it got louder and louder. We were told to run,” he said.

A spokesperson from the Foundry was available for comment after the ordeal, saying the damaged furnace was not cooled with water, as the extreme temperatures would likely cause an adverse reaction, increasing the likelihood of more explosions. Luckily no one was injured during the event and the foundry was quick to recover, opening for business a week later.

McKechnie Iron Foundry

Photo: Tait Schmaal

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Featured image: Andrew Dempster