The presence of magnesium at a burning metals factory Thursday afternoon in Madison, Illinois, near St. Louis, made extinguishing the blaze a touchy matter for firefighters.
“That’s not a good thing at all,” Madison Mayor John Hamm told KTVI News. “It will get much worse when you apply water to a magnesium fire.”
At 4:30 p.m. flames were reported at Magnesium Elektron, a company that makes magnesium alloys used in batteries and electronics.
Burning magnesium reacts violently to water, producing great heat and a piercing white light. With a flame temperature exceeding 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, magnesium burns hot enough to break down water into its basic components -- hydrogen and oxygen.
That feeds the fire rather than extinguishing it, experts agree. Fortunately, oil and trash fueled the fire at Magnesium Elektron, KTVI reports.
Regardless of the fuel, authorities ordered homes surrounding the Metro East industrial park be evacuated.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the fire.