MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- What the Memphis Fire Department is describing as a "dust explosion" forced 30 to 40 employees to evacuate the DuPont plant on South Mendenhall near Raines for several hours Friday evening.
Firefighters said the explosion happened around 6:12 p.m. inside one of the four units at the plant which processes protein.
"The dust from that protein, there was a chain reaction that caused an explosion. The suppression system extinguished it and cooled that unit down," said Lt. Wayne Cooke with MFD.
Shortly after the explosion, a small fire was visible at the plant. Cooke said the unit reached a temperature of about 1,000 degrees, but because of the in-built suppression system, firefighters didn't have to deploy their hoses.
“It was a big explosion, like fire roaring out," said Marcus Dean who was with friends getting haircuts at the barber shop across the street at the time of the explosion.
"Just an unexpected explosion come out of nowhere, you know. Something like a movie," Dean said.
"As soon as it happened, it was like, BOOM, like, everything was moving and stuff. It was crazy," said Calmar Davis, another witness.
DuPont released a statement that said the plant experienced a "minor fire," but no one in the plant or the area surrounding it was harmed.
"Local emergency management services quickly responded to the incident, and the fire has been extinguished. All employees are reported safe, and there was no release of material on or off site. There is no impact to the local community. The safety of our employees and site operations are our top priority. We are investigating this incident to uncover its root cause."
As firefighters responded to the explosion, police blocked off a large section of Mendenhall for hours as customers at nearby businesses came outside to investigate for themselves.
"Felt like an 18-wheeler hit the building," Eric Johnson said. "Everybody got up and ran out to see what was going on.”
“I hope everybody over there straight though, they okay," Dean said.
“Stuff like that is just unexpected. You know, a life could change so easy," Davis said.