Unity briefly evacuated due to fertilizer scare
By Kevin O’Brien
The threat of a possible ammonium nitrate explosion at a feed mill in Unity prompted a temporary evacuation of the village and multiple road closures on Tuesday morning.
The incident that led to the emergency shutdown occurred at a Provision Partners facility located on the west side of STH13 on the north end of Unity A 911 call was made to the Clark County dispatch center at 7:36 a.m. after the caller heard a loud noise and saw smoke coming from the top of an elevator being used to offload dry fertilizer from a railroad car into a semi-trailer, according to Clark County emergency management director John Ross.
Firefighters and EMTs from Central Fire and EMS responded to the village, and residents were ordered to evacuate as a precautionary measure.
Joe Mueller, chief of the Central Fire and EMS District, said the system used to off-load the fertilizer got plugged, causing pressure to build up within the sheet metal, which may have led to the loud noise people heard.
“There was a bang, and they didn’t know if it was an explosion,” he said.
A motor on the tower started to smoke, creating concerns of a possible fire.
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staffphoto/kevino’brien “There was no fire,” Mueller said. “I’m not sure if the motor seized up or if a belt wasn’t running and burned up.”
Still, Mueller said the evacuation and other precautionary measures were taken because of how volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer is.
“If that stuff blows up, it’s going to reach a half-mile, and they had between 250 and 300 tons of it there,” he said.
The incident was resolved without any injuries or property damage.
“The elevator was cleared of material and restarted without incident,” Ross wrote in a press release.
Emergency units cleared the scene and residents were allowed to return to their homes as of 10:35 a.m.
Mueller said the district had about 18 firefighters and two EMTs on scene at the facility.
“Before we left, everything was operational again,” he said.
Officers from the Colby-Abbotsford Police Department and Marathon County Sheriff’s Office assisted with traffic control, rerouting traffic off Highway 13 and other county highways leading into the village. Owen-Withee-Curtiss Fire and EMS staged units to assist if needed.
Other assisting agencies involved in the response included the Wisconsin DNR, Wisconsin DOT, Marathon County Emergency Management, Canadian National Railroad, and Clark County Emergency Management.