No one was injured in a fire and explosion that rocked an industrial area in South Akron on Wednesday and prompted a large-scale evacuation.

But a hazardous materials team didn’t reach the site for more than two hours because officials feared butadiene — the primary chemical used by Emerald Performance Materials — could cause a secondary explosion or chemical reaction with other materials there.

Firefighters were forced to wait on the edge of the evacuation zone with residents and employees from nearby homes and businesses as officials scrambled to get a drone and airplane equipped with cameras over the factory to see what was burning and how hot.

Finally, just after 3 p.m., hazardous materials teams suited up in full-body fire suits and breathing masks and ventured inside.

By then, all that remained was a small fire burning on the factory’s roof. It was likely caused by towering flames that could be seen shooting skyward after the explosion.

The fire department reported the fire was out by 5 p.m.

Employees in charge of safety at the factory and a contractor hired by the company accompanied the hazmat team, which was already familiar with the factory.

Over the past 12 months, the Akron Fire Department had visited the factory for an annual safety presentation and performed a safety drill there.

The company has also provided information to the fire department about the types of chemicals on the property, including the highly flammable butadiene, which can irritate people’s eyes, noses and throats.

Emerald Performance Materials, which traces its history to BFGoodrich, is privately held and based in Washington state. It supplies chemicals to the aerospace, cosmetic, paint, food and other industries.

Safety concerns

A recent inspection turned up some safety concerns, Akron Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Sierjie Lash said, but added “the company has been very cooperative in getting those resolved.” Although requested, the inspection report was not available Wednesday.

Officials evacuated a half-mile radius around the Emerling Avenue plant and Akron police and workers with Summit County Victim Assistance set up a team at the University of Akron’s student union to provide information and help reunite families separated during the crisis.

No one was missing, officials said, but some children and parents found themselves on opposite sides of the evacuation zone.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Emerald thanked all of the first responders involved and said three of its employees were evaluated at a hospital and released after no injuries were diagnosed.

What caused the 12:54 p.m. blast remained unclear Wednesday.

The boom rattled houses in South Akron, Firestone Park and Kenmore, residents told reporters.

A large, short-lived flame appeared in the sky, followed by a towering plume of black smoke that was visible from Beacon Journal offices at South High and East Exchange streets downtown — about three miles from Emerald Performance Materials.

Carlos Medina, a United Survey employee, was in a manhole performing sewer work for Emerald Performance on the company’s campus. Workers from the sewer rehabilitation firm may have been closest to the blast.

“I was working and my guys up top heard a big boom,” he said. “It started to feel kind of funny down in the manhole. The first step was to just pull me out and get me out of there. We started running and evacuated.”

His co-worker, Orlando Morgan, was above ground near the manhole.

“We heard a boom and looked up and the whole building blew up,” Morgan said.

Medina said when he looked at the building after being pulled from the manhole, “the top part of it was just gone. It was just in flames. I didn’t know what to think besides, ‘Run.’ ”

Within 15 minutes, firefighters and police from across the city were rushing into South Akron.

“The whole building is involved,” police said over the scanner about 1:10 p.m.

Authorities quickly began pushing people away from the chemical factory as they tried to gauge the danger of the situation.

Employees not hurt

The explosion at the plant could be felt for miles.

Toni Korora had one foot on the bottom step of her front porch in Kenmore and the other on the ground when the earth seemed to bounce up and down.

“All of the sudden, I hear a ‘Boom!’ and everything shook,” said Korora, 57, who has lived all of her life near Sixth Street in the neighborhood.

Korora’s next door neighbor ran outside and pointed to the sky, she said.

“There was a big fire and big, black smoke,” she said.

As others began running from the explosion, Korora hopped in her car and headed toward it, stopping on the Manchester Road bridge to take photographs.

She left the area as officials started blocking roads and evacuating nearby residents and businesses.

Offices closed

Parts of government shut down, too.

Summit County Metro Parks closed the Towpath Trail between Summit Lake and Wilbeth Road, and the Metro Regional Transit Authority evacuated its offices at 416 Kenmore Blvd. It warned riders to expect delays in service and officials said no one would be at its offices to answer phones.

The nearby Russell M. Pry Building, 1180 S. Main St., was also evacuated and closed. It houses the Department of Job and Family Services, as well as other county offices. It later confirmed that the building would reopen for business as usual Thursday.

Christine Meloy, who lives in one of only two houses on Emerling Avenue, returned to the edge of the evacuation zone to see what was happening.

About a year ago, she said, she awoke to sirens because of other trouble at Emerald Performance Materials, but she never knew what happened and no one was evacuated.

On Wednesday, she was watching her brother’s grandchildren — ages 8 and 5 — when she heard a boom.

Minutes before, she gave the children sidewalk chalk and sent them to play on the front porch.

“I just ran to them. It sounded like the whole house was collapsing,” Meloy said.

When she reached them, her grand-nephew pointed to the flame in the sky over Emerald Performance.

Meloy and the children quickly evacuated. She dropped the children with her mother in nearby Firestone Park.

Meloy never had allergies until moving onto Emerling Avenue about 18 months ago, she said.

“But this weekend, my eyes were so bad I could hardly open them all weekend long,” she said. “Maybe those chemicals had been [causing trouble] longer than they knew.”

About 5:30 p.m. — nearly six hours after the evacuation — Akron gave the all clear, lifting the evacuation and thanking everyone impacted for their patience as a half-dozen agencies worked to quell the danger.

“That’s what I wanted,” Meloy said. “I just wanted to go home.”

Beacon Journal/Ohio.com reporter Rick Armon contributed to this report. Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com.