At about 7:30 pm on Sunday, January 22, 2017, residents of Cantonment, Florida and some people as far away as Santa Rosa County heard a large explosion, followed shortly by a shower of slimy black soot. The nearby International Paper plant on Muskogee Road had exploded, emitting a concoction of water, wood fibers, and pulping liquor into the air and which later fell on people's houses, cars, and yards. Emergency responders arrived at the plant shortly after, quickly ascertaining the safety of all employees and workers before turning to the site of the explosion. At the plant, only one building sustained structural damage on multiple stories while the rest of the area was deemed safe. Fortunately, no one was around and no was was injured.
A thick layer of the sooty mixture from the plant covered yards and cars, roads, and sidewalks. Word quickly got out that the substance was not safe to touch, as it could cause uncomfortable skin irritation. People and pets who had come in contact with it were advised to clean the exposed area with soap and water for fifteen minutes and to take extra care not to let it come in contact with the mouth or eyes. Anyone who experienced skin irritation or respiratory issues were told to go to a doctor. Many people were able to quickly wash down their cars and attempt to rinse the slime out of their yards, but it was immediately clear that a professional cleaning crew would have to cover the city. Highway 29, which collected a layer of slime, was closed from Woodbury Circle to Morris Avenue and the stretch of road from 297A to Muskogee Road was closed during the process. The project of cleaning up (funded by International Paper) in the area continued throughout the week, expanding to other neighborhoods in Cantonment and ensuring the safety of all residents and their property. County Commissioner Steven Barry has been meeting with people who live in the area, vowing that IP will be held responsible for the effect the explosion has had on residents. Area schools opened as usual the next day.
There were no injuries or fatalities in the explosion and the danger was easily contained by Escambia County Fire Rescue, who stayed onsite until nearly midnight. The International Paper plant has had a bit of trouble with the EPA in the past, including Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act violations. It has been nearly a year since the plant's last inspection. An investigation into the incident is currently under investigation. Cantonment is about twenty miles away from the larger cities of Pensacola and Pensacola Beach, Florida, in the northern portion of Escambia County. Follow us socially to keep up with local news and info at @gulfcondos