Molten Copper Causes Fire, Shut-Down at Arizona Smelter

MIAMI, Ariz. (AP) — A smelter in east-central Arizona has been shut down after molten copper breached a processing vessel, causing a fire and explosions but no reported injuries, company officials said Thursday.

The incident occurred late Wednesday night in Miami, about 70 miles east of Phoenix, said Eric Kinneberg, a spokesman for Phoenix-based Freeport McMorRan Inc.

The molten material that spilled on the ground inside and around a building was contained and no longer flowing Thursday, Kinneberg said.

The explosions heard and felt by residents of Miami and the neighboring communities of Globe and Claypool happened when the molten copper came in contact with water, said A.J. Howell of the Tri-City Fire District.

An investigation of the cause and extent of the damage to the Miami smelter’s electric arc furnace was being conducted, and the duration of the temporary shut-down of smelter operations and the impact on the production from the smelter remains uncertain, Kinneberg said.

The electric arc furnace is the second step in the smelting process, melting the concentrate before the copper is extracted.

The State Mine Inspector was on site Thursday. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality have been notified of the incident, Kinneberg said.

Some electrical cabling, a large mobile crane and a few pieces of small mobile equipment also were damaged, he said.

The Miami smelter has an annual capacity of to process about 700,000 tons of concentrate producing about 400 million pounds of copper and 700,000 tons of sulfuric acid.

The concentrate processed at Miami is almost exclusively sourced from Freeport-McMoRan’s copper mines in Arizona and New Mexico.

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