Brunswick chemical plant fire triggers evacuations

Firefighter injured, company says fire presents “no danger” to community
This is a picture of the Symrise chemical plant fire on the morning of Nov. 7 in Brunswick.

Credit: Glynn County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Glynn County Sheriff's Office

This is a picture of the Symrise chemical plant fire on the morning of Nov. 7 in Brunswick.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect an end to evacuations of nearby neighborhoods.

An industrial fire sparked a series of explosions at a South Georgia chemical plant, sending plumes of smoke into the sky above Brunswick and prompting precautionary evacuations of nearby neighborhoods.

Glynn County firefighters from as far away as Savannah and Jacksonville responded to the Symrise plant at 209 SCM Road before 4 a.m. Monday. Authorities reported a “small explosion” at the factory as they arrived followed by two subsequent explosions, forcing them to temporarily pull back.

Officials said they were able to get the blaze under control later in the morning, though crews continued to battle flare-ups 12 hours after the fire started.

A county spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a firefighter suffered minor injuries and is stable. No other injuries have been reported.

People within three miles of the site were advised to shelter in place, as were students and staff at two area schools. Residents living within a one-mile radius of the site were advised to evacuate based on potential danger from smoke inhalation and the possibility of more explosions, including residents in the Satilla Shores and Royal Oaks neighborhoods.

County officials announced after 6 p.m. Monday those residents were free to return to their neighborhoods.

Area residents reported smelling fumes from the fire, Glynn County Commissioner Cap Fendig said, adding he is telling them: “Get out of there. Don’t be inhaling it.”

“It’s still an ongoing critical situation,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just after 4 p.m. Monday. “The wind is fueling flare-ups. Evacuation orders still stand as they did this morning.”

The Associated Press reported about 100 households had evacuated the area.

Between six and eight people were evacuated from the plant as the fire spread, Brunswick Mayor Cosby Johnson said.

“We are keeping an eye on it as a city to make sure all of our shelters are ready to go as they were during the hurricane,” he said, “but also making sure that we get solid information out to our citizenry about what is going on.”

A temporary shelter was set up for evacuees at Ballard Park in Brunswick. Authorities in neighboring Camden County evacuated residents from the Dover Bluff and Hickory Bluff communities.

Update: Hickory Bluff, Sanctuary Cove, Satilla Shores and Royal Oaks are being evacuated. Uncontrolled fire at the...

Posted by Glynn County Sheriff's Office on Monday, November 7, 2022

Symrise, a German company that makes fragrance, flavor, nutritional and cosmetic ingredients, said in a statement that the blaze broke out during regular early-morning production hours for fragrance ingredients. The company said employees and residents are not in danger, but the incident will be investigated.

“Currently Symrise has no reason to believe that the fire will cause additional health hazards to the local community,” the company’s statement said. “Symrise will closely cooperate and support local authorities in analyzing the causes for the fire as soon as the authorities allow return to the area.”

Glynn fire officials said the chemical source of the fire was hydrogen peroxide pinene, which is manufactured at the site. The AJC could not immediately locate safety information for this compound.

According to annual toxic release inventory filings with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Symrise’s factory also handles ammonia and nickel. But it’s unclear if either of those compounds were affected by the fire.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources confirmed to the AJC that their staff members, along with a unified command team, began investigating the fire Monday. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating, and a spokeswoman said there has been no prior inspection activity at the factory since 2015.

A Monday evening news release said crews will spray foam to contain fumes and the state fire marshal will be afforded entry to the plant to investigate the cause of the blaze.

The 188-acre factory site was owned by Pinova Holdings until Symrise acquired Pinova and its assets for nearly $400 million in 2015, according to a news release. At the time, the facility specialized in perfume, fragrance and oral care products and ingredients, including processing of menthol-based products. The news release said Pinova also provided fragrances derived from wood, orange oils and paper production bioproducts.

Former Brunswick Mayor Bryan Thompson doesn’t recall experiencing similar incidents with Pinova when he led the city between 2006 and 2013.

“They seemed to be a reputable, good, solid company,” he said.

Symrise, which announced an $18 million expansion of the Brunswick plant last year, reported about $3.8 billion in revenue in 2021. Symrise’s customers include food and beverage companies and makers of personal care products, nutritional supplements and pet food.

The Associated Press and Savannah Morning News contributed to this report.