AK Steel#039;s big blast rattles many nerves

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

ASHLAND, KY.- Was it a jet or an explosion?

That was the question that sent people in parts of Ironton and Coal Grove into the streets Thursday, searching for the cause of a loud noise that lasted for nearly two minutes, followed by tall flames and a plume of black smoke. It appeared to emanate from the AK Steel plant across the Ohio River in Ashland, Ky.

According to Alan McCoy, vice-president of government and public relations for AK Steel, the incident was caused when a blast furnace malfunctioned.

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"The malfunction occurred when the material in the furnace dropped suddenly and cause an increase in pressure. The increase in pressure then kicked off a relief valve… which allows gas and light material to escape momentarily until the pressure goes back down," McCoy said.

A blast furnace is used to smelt liquid iron from iron ore pellets, coke and limestone.

McCoy said there were no injuries and equipment at the plant is being checked for any damage.

Eddie S. Lambert, director of the Ashland-Boyd County-Catlettsburg

Emergency Management Agency said area emergency services agencies

were preparing to respond to the incident when AK Steel, Inc. officials told them not to worry.

"Greg Armstrong of AK Steel told our (Regional Public Safety Communications) dispatch center that there was nothing to respond to," Lambert said.

Perhaps it was nothing, but it caught the attention of people on both sides of the river.

"I was coming up Fifth Street by the Open Door School and it sounded like a daggone jet taking off," Connie Harrison, of Coal Grove, said. "I looked and saw flames shooting up in the air and a cloud of black smoke."