'Fireballs' from steel plant explosion burn house on South Side

A house caught fire Wednesday after burning debris went flying from a steel plant on the South Side.

Neighbors told investigators that “fireballs” flew through the air after an explosion at the Finkl Steel plant in Burnside, Chicago Fire Dept. Cmdr. Frank Velez said. No injuries were reported at the plant or house.

An operator was outside moving slag — a byproduct of metal production — and placed it into a pit that should not have contained water, Velez said. The combination caused an explosion and sent flaming debris through the air and onto a house about a block away.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before — when [slag] went through the air and went to a neighbor’s house,” Finkl Steel spokesman Brian Brown said.

Firefighters initially responded to an explosion about 8 a.m. at the plant in the 1300 block of East 93rd Street, Velez said. The plant was undamaged and no one was hurt.

Fire crews then noticed a house fire about a block away in the 9100 block of South Woodlawn, Velez said.  Firefighters put out the blaze, but the house sustained heavy damage, according to Velez. One firefighter suffered a minor injury.

Investigators found evidence in the house that linked the fire to the debris from the plant explosion, the fire department said.

“We’re putting safeguards in place before we dump slag again,” Brown said.

Brown said that eight people were displaced from the the home. The company set them up in a hotel and supplied them with items, including shoes and food, Brown said.