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Crews Extinguish Grease Fire in Blast Furnaces

Smoky fire on SouthSide brought under control quickly.

An accidental grease fire caused a lot of smoke and drama at the old Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces today, but no damage or injuries, Bethlehem fire officials said.

The fire started at a little after 1 p.m. today when welding sparks generated by repair work inside furnace Tower C ignited residual grease remaining from when the plant operated, according to Fire Marshal Robert Novatnack.

The flames were put down in about 20 minutes, Novatnack said.

Contractors hired by maintain the blast furnaces, including installing and replacing the colored lights that make the old towers glow at night, providing a dramatic backdrop for the and the new WLVT-TV, PBS-39, television studios.

“I was hoping they were filming a movie here when I saw all the smoke,” said Mike Piersa, a volunteer with the National Museum of Industrial History, which is working to establish itself near the SteelStacks campus.

Piersa said he was arriving to do volunteer work when he saw a large amount of smoke being generated inside the furnace, the inevitable result of grease burning.

It is nearly impossible to remove all of the remaining grease from inside of the blast furnace, even though it has been out of operation for nearly 16 years, said Mike Piersa, a volunteer with the National Museum of Industrial History, which is in the process of establishing itself nearby.

“It’s like cleaning your car engine. No matter how hard you try, there is going to be grease on it,” Piersa said.

Tower C is 203 feet tall and was built in 1942, as Bethlehem Steel geared up for the massive production needed to build ships and armaments for World War II. It was the last of the furnace towers to cease production when Bethlehem Steel stopped operating in 1995, Piersa said.

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