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Economy and Business


Fire at Republic Steel in Lorain derails new furnace
$85 million project had just come online, and the Canton-based company projected adding 450 jobs in the next several years
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA


Reporter
Kabir Bhatia
 
Republic Steel estimated 450 jobs and a $1 billion impact from its new electric arc furnace; the future of the German- and Italian-sourced furnace likely won't be known until later in the week
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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In The Region:
A weekend fire at Republic Steel has sidelined a new furnace that was slated to bring hundreds of jobs to the plant in Lorain.  WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports.
Fire at Republic Steel in Lorain derails new furnace

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It’s been five years since steel production ended at Republic Steel, and two years since the company announced the new $85 million electric arc furnace project. The company estimated that 450 new jobs would result in the next few years, with an estimated $1 billion economic impact. The furnace’s first heat was last Monday. Lorain Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Livchak says a fire broke out Saturday afternoon, during the furnace’s second or third heat.

“The oxygen line to the arc furnace had ruptured at ground level. Engineers suspected they were expecting a backfire from the furnace somehow got into the oxygen supply line. The resulting fire, being supplied by the oxygen, had a blowtorch effect. The oxygen supply fire spread to the bottom, second and third floors of the main control center of the furnace. Heavy smoke damage to the third floor.”

Livchak says there is no timetable for an investigation into the fire, and the damage he saw appears repairable. Republic officials were not available for comment on Sunday.

“It’s sort of a blow that this happened right now, but we're hoping they can get it repaired and everybody can get back to work. We just hope that they can get it back online as quick as possible.”

New contracts with old competitors
Canton-based Republic has a five-year contract to supply its neighbor, U.S. Steel, with steel rounds to make pipe. That deal begins next year. And Elizabeth Apponte has already noticed a renewed optimism among customers at Lito’s Place, the bar she runs across the street from Republic’s main entrance.

“There’s a lot of people who are very, like, ‘wow.’ We need a lot of jobs and it’s really a good feeling. The more people, the more business.”

And she was hoping to add to her clientele.

“Everybody gets along. We like family. When new people come in, we welcome them.”

Jim Jacobs worked at Republic for 44 years, retiring last year.

“Anytime there’s a positive thing it’s good for the community, because there’s been so many negatives over the last 10, 15, 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of stuff change during the years. In the ‘80s is when they made the big cutbacks and went to 2,500 people at the most.”

How it works
He’s glad that Republic and U.S. Steel have renewed their relationship, and he proudly explains how the new furnace works.

“The old way of doing it [was] you had your blast furnace, you had your bob shop, into the casters where they cast the stuff. The electric furnace, basically, takes the place of a blast furnace. So instead of using raw materials, you’re going to use scrap metal. The methods are different but the end result, you hope, is the same.”

The end result of the fire is unknown. The Lorain Morning-Journal reports that many company officials were out of town for the Thanksgiving weekend, with more information on the fire likely not available till later in the week. And officials from United Steelworkers Local 1104 were unavailable for comment on Sunday. Republic did say five people were hurt during the fire, but all had been treated and released by Sunday morning.
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