NORTH CAROLINA (From news reports) -- A fire broke out Friday afternoon, April 30, at an Enviva wood pellet plant with an extensive history of environmental violations, sending thick clouds of smoke across Interstate 40. A pile of raw wood at a facility in Faison, in Sampson County, caught fire. In a statement, the company said it was investigating the cause. According to TV media reports, the fire, whipped by strong winds, also spread to a nearby woods. More than 50 firefighters, as well as the NC Forestry Service, were on the scene. No one was injured.
According to NC Department of Environmental Quality records, Enviva has accumulated five air quality violations at the Sampson County plant since 2017. These include excess emissions of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter in violation of the facility's air permit. Earlier this year, DEQ fined the company $7,300 in civil penalties for equipment failures in 2020 that resulted in violations of the permit.
Enviva operates four plants in North Carolina: Ahoskie, Hamlet, Garysburg and Faison.
Enviva's plant in Ahoskie has also been cited by the state for failure to control dust and equipment failures; its facility in Hamlet was fined more than $11,000 last year for equipment malfunctions that led to violations of its air permit.
Settlement agreements with environmental groups and the state required the company to install more stringent air pollution controls at the Hamlet and Faison plants.
This is second fire at the Sampson facility, and at least the sixth fire at an Enviva plant in the Southeast since 2014.
- April 8, 2020, Faison, N.C., in Sampson County
- March 8, 2020, Greenwood, S.C.: A fire started in one of the plant's silos, temporarily shutting down the plant's assembly line.
- Feb. 27, 2018, Chesapeake, Va.: A fire started in conveyor equipment near the top of one of the concrete storage domes and then spread to pellets in the domes, according to Dust Safety Science. A fire suppression system in the domes dispersed liquid nitrogen to keep the fire from spreading.
- Aug. 8, 2016, Northampton County, N.C.
- Jan. 9, 2014, Southampton County, Va.
Meanwhile, Enviva has applied for a modified air permit at its Northampton plant, a Title V facility. Title V permits are reserved for major pollution emitters. The NC Department of Environmental Quality has scheduled a virtual public hearing for May 24.