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Area plant blast caused by spark that reacted with spilled solvent

This pile of rubble and three leaning walls were all that remained after an explosion at A.H. Meyers and Sons beeswax plant in Winfred in late September. (Laura Wehde/Republic Photo)

WINFRED -- A Winfred beeswax plant explosion last week was caused by a spark that reacted with spilled solvent, Madison Fire Chief Jerry Johnson said Wednesday.

A Sept. 28 explosion and fire occurred at A.H. Meyer and Sons plant, which houses a beeswax purification process that prepares the wax for use in cosmetics and candles.

When one of the employees opened a vessel or container with wax and heptane -- a solvent used in the wax purification process -- the solvent spilled and vaporized, Johnson said. One employee then turned on a pump as another turned one off.

"Somewhere in the procedure of doing that, there was a spark and the spark ignited the vapors," he said.

Johnson said he is ruling the explosion as accidental. A deputy state fire marshal, insurance investigator and Johnson came to that conclusion after interviewing three plant employees, he said.

A plant employee burned in the incident was closest to the vapors, Johnson said.

Daniel Woldt of Madison is in satisfactory condition at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. Jack Meyer Jr., A.H. Meyer and Sons president, and Dwaine Chapel, Lake Area Improvement Corp. executive director, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon on the plant officials' plans to rebuild.

Johnson surmised the loss of the plant would be substantial.

"It could run as high as a half-million dollars," he said.

An explosion and fire occurred at the same site in 1990 and 2004. A fire in 2002 destroyed the company's beeswax rendering plant about a block south of the plant that burned.