Malvern's Colfor Manufacturing plant engulfed by fire

Lori Steineck
The Repository
Firefighters battled an industrial blaze Tuesday at Colfor Manufacturing in Malvern.

MALVERN Firefighters from 18 departments in three counties battled an early morning blaze that destroyed much of American Axle & Manufacturing's Colfor Manufacturing plant on Tuesday.

Smoke blanketed much of the area, stretching east into the Malvern and then Waynesburg areas, making visibility at some spots nearly non-existent.

While the extent of the physical damage was not yet known, firefighters agreed that the impact on the community will be huge.

"It's going to have an effect. That impact is on our minds and we plan for these things," said Chief Ralph Castellucci of the Great Trails Fire District. "This is worst-case scenario right now."

He noted that the need for water to fight the fire not only taxed the local water system and the Minerva-area water supply but additional water had to be hauled in.

The local school system closed, according to Brown Local Schools' Facebook page - Hornet Pride - which cited "zero water pressure and concerns over smoke and traffic from the Colfor Fire."

Firefighters initially were called in because "the press was on fire," Castellucci said. "Multiple presses were burning. The fire hit the roof and spread out across the building." 

Firefighters from across Carroll, Stark and Columbiana counties came to assist.

Employees, former and current, watched from state Routes 43 and 183 as some employees who'd already arrived to work at the Colfor plant changed into firefighting gear. Many of the employees also work on the local volunteer fire departments.

As of 10 a.m. - five hours after the fire was called - firefighters were still actively fighting back the fire with some of the roof caving. Castellucci pointed out that no one had been injured.

"We're going to try to save as much of this facility as we can," he said. "The deepest part in (inside the plant) has given us some problems right now."

Many employees were inside the plant when the fire broke out. Their numbers were not available as spokespeople for the company could not be reached for comment.

Stephen Imes, who also battled the blaze as a Dellroy firefighter, is also an employee. He was working inside the building early Tuesday morning when he heard there was a fire in the part of the facility where the presses are located.

"I seen an orange glow and I thought it was them just heating the dies because that's how we normally heat the dies is with heating torches," Imes said. "Then it came across the radio that they had a big fire and they called for help.

"So I went out there and the flames were already taller than the press by the time we got out there. So we grabbed fire extinguishers trying to extinguish it. That wasn't working so everybody just evacuated."

Dozens watched from the gas station/convenience store across the street.

"You could see the smoke clear over in Waynesburg," said Malcolm Simmons, 23, of Malvern. He had just been leaving for the Akron-Canton Airport where he works when he saw firetrucks heading for the plant. When he got off work, he returned to watch the firefighters try to save the burning blue building.

A few residents watching from across the street asked for prayers for the community.

One of them, Karen Anderson of Carrollton, said, "I feel so sorry for all the people who work here."

Beside her, her husband Donald Anderson, shook his head as he watched black smoke billowing skyward. 

"It's a shame," said Donald Anderson, who retired in 2011 after working at the plant for 35 years.

Minerva resident Houston Rogers stood in the grass nearby with his friend, Clint Masters, who works the afternoon shift. Rogers' fiancee, Katie Smucker, also works for the company, but she, too, switched roles to battle the blaze as a Brown Local firefighter, he said.

Rogers had just arrived to work the morning shift when he saw an ambulance across the street from the plant.

"I saw the ambulance at Crossroads Pizza and thought there'd been an accident. Then I saw the smoke and the orange light - flames," Rogers said.

Rogers, a machinist apprentice at the plant for the past six years, is considering what he'll do for work now.

"I don't know. This isn't something I prepared for or have ever had to deal with," he said.

Neither has Brad Houck, a northeast Canton resident and press operator at the plant for two years.

"I work afternoons," he said, adding that he plans to "wait it out and see what happens, see if they're going to rebuild. If not, (I will) see what else is out there."

Then he ran across the road blocked for firetrucks and joined his friends who were hanging onto the fence, watching firefighters continue to fight the fire.

Reach Lori at 330-580-8309 or lori.steineck@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @lsteineckREP

More:Colfor fire video: https://youtu.be/onmN7-HcQh0

Firefighters work to extinguish an early morning fire at American Axle & Manufacturing's Colfor Manufacturing plant on Alliance Road in Malvern on Tuesday. (CantonRep.com / Julie Vennitti)
Employees look on as firefighters tackle an early morning fire Tuesday at American Axle & Manufacturing's Colfor Manufacturing plant on Alliance Road in Malvern. (CantonRep.com / Julie Vennitti)
Spectators gather during an early morning fire Tuesday at American Axle & Manufacturing's Colfor Manufacturing plant on Alliance Road in Malvern. (CantonRep.com / Julie Vennitti)
Firefighters work to extinguish an early morning fire Tuesday at American Axle & Manufacturing's Colfor Manufacturing plant on Alliance Road in Malvern. (CantonRep.com / Julie Vennitti)
Firefighters work to extinguish an early morning fire at American Axle & Manufacturing's Colfor Manufacturing plant on Alliance Road in Malvern Tuesday, Sept. 22,  2020. (CantonRep.com / Julie Vennitti)
Firefighters work to extinguish an early morning fire at American Axle & Manufacturing's Colfor Manufacturing plant on Alliance Road in Malvern Tuesday, Sept. 22,  2020. (CantonRep.com / Julie Vennitti)