1:44 PM: Seattle Fire crews are right across the river from the heart of South Park right now, 7700 block of 14th Avenue South (map), checking out what was reported as an explosion. The address cross-reference to Airgas, Inc., and fire crews have described it on the scanner as “an acetylene plant.” So far no word of exactly what happened nor whether anyone is hurt, but we’ll keep monitoring.
1:49 PM UPDATE: The call has been downgraded from “major explosion” to “haz-mat response/reduced.”
2:56 PM UPDATE: Here’s what we have just learned, speaking with SFD spokesperson Kyle Moore:
The “explosion” at Airgas, which does indeed manufacture acetylene – a “very explosive” gas used in welding – happened in what Moore describes as “a building that’s designed to sustain explosions,” with a venting system designed to blow off if something like that happens. The building where it happened is made of corrugated steel; some panels blew off, some windows blew out, but he stressed that the building is designed to handle that. Six employees were in the facility when it happened; no one was hurt. The building also has a “system” to contain the effects of any such explosion, and that kicked in. When SFD got the call, they sent over a big response. There was no fire. Firefighters went in and “turned off a couple of lines that employees wanted turned off.” They also are checking air levels to make sure it’s safe for people to go back inside, and they are continuing to check to make sure no gas leaked out – so far, he said, no problems detected. They set up a so-called “hot zone” to be safe, until they are sure there were no leaks; outside the plant, they also are keeping watch in what they call a “warm zone” and a “green zone,” within a perimeter. Moore expects that they will turn the building back over to Airgas soon, assuming they do not detect any lingering problems.