In October, a massive fire ignited approximately 180,000 tons of sugar and tore through six warehouses at Copersucar, one of Brazil’s, and the world’s, largest sugar operations. The fire was said to have started in a conveyor system that was responsible for the transport of sugar throughout the facility’s warehouses. Four employees suffered minor injuries, but thankfully, no one was seriously hurt.

Fires that involve large amounts of sugar can be very difficult to extinguish because when the sugar burns, it creates a carbonized outer shell that presents a barrier to fire extinguishants. The fire at Copersucar smoldered for two days and took most of the 10-million ton per year operation offline. The warehouses that were involved in the fire were completely destroyed.

While it is expected to take six months to a year for the facility to get back up to full capacity, Copersucar “expects a raw sugar warehouse and its fire-damaged terminal in Santos to resume shipping in January and additional export capacity to be available around May.”

Copersucar started its operations in 2008 and exports 10 million tons of sugar a year with the help of its 47 partner mills. The company recorded $4.1 billion in revenue in 2012.

The exact cause of this conflagration is unknown at this time, but there are still lessons that can be learned from it. For example, some fire hazards, if ignited, are relatively simple to extinguish. In such cases, the probability of extinguishment by automatic suppression systems or by manual means is relatively high. Fires involving other fire hazards, like the enormous quantity of stored sugar at Copersucar, can be more difficult to extinguish; therefore, the probability of extinguishment will be much lower. Often, a thorough fire risk assessment by an experienced fire protection engineer can identify the relative probability of extinguishment, as well as devise means to improve the odds.

An experienced fire protection engineer can also help develop specific fire prevention strategies that greatly reduce the probability that a fire will ignite in the first place. Where the potential fire can be very difficult to extinguish, an extra effort should be made to prevent ignition. If you need to develop fire prevention strategies or think your facility can benefit from a thorough fire risk assessment, we can help. To hear from one of our fire protection engineers, just fill out the form below:

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By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.