On Sunday, November 20, 1994, at approximately 3:41 pm, a series of explosions occurred at a furniture manufacturing facility in Lenoir, North Carolina. There were two fatalities and four injuries as a result of this incident. The North Carolina Special Bureau of Investigations determined that the nature of the incident was accidental and not criminal.
The incident occurred in the particle board manufacturing portion of the plant. Raw dust was taken in and refined into finished sheets of particle board that was used in the construction of furniture in other portions of the plant. This manufacturing line was the sole source of particle board for the plant's furniture-making operations.
Based on NFPA's site inspection and subsequent analysis, it was determined that there were three potential sources of ignition: a stray piece of metal in a grinding machine that sparked, a leak in an overhead oil line that atomized and subsequently ignited, or a natural gas leak in the vicinity of the thermal transfer unit that was ignited explosively.
Following the initiating event, four explosions occurred throughout the facility. These explosions were caused by dust in the facility that was placed into suspension in the air by each prior explosion. The dust in suspension then came into contact with an ignition source and ignited explosively. It was observed that there were large amounts of dust throughout the facility, and there were minimal efforts to control electrical ignition sources.
Two employees were killed and four were injured. Damage to the facility covered 139,000 square feet. Production will be interrupted for over nine months. An estimate of the property damage is not available. However, much of the building, as well as the production equipment, will have to be replaced.
For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report. To read about NFPA's statistical report on Fires in U.S. Industrial and Manufacturing Facilities.