SOUTH BEND - A 45-year-old man is dead after welding materials sparked a small explosion Tuesday at a recycling center south of downtown.
Fire officials say 45-year-old Jonathan Atkinson, of South Bend, was found dead at the scene and two other people suffered from burns and smoke inhalation during the explosion and subsequent fire in a machine shop at the Green Tech Transfer and Recycling Station at 2400 Green Tech Drive.
Just before 11:30 a.m., the South Bend Fire Department received a call of an explosion at the recycling center, located at the corner of Eckman and Green Tech Drive, near the Southside Little League fields on Ewing Avenue. Fire Chief Howard Buchanon said crews arrived to find the explosion had sparked a small fire, which was nearly subdued by the time firefighters arrived.
According to fire investigators, the explosion and fire were ignited by welding materials in a shop area of the recycling center. Crews were able to contain the fire within minutes of arrival, and the metal building showed signs of black charring above a garage door.
Fire investigators estimated the damage to the building and materials at $10,000. An autopsy has been requested for Atkinson, but fire investigators have released little information about what sparked the explosion.
Green Tech opened in 2007 and sits on a former brownfield site that once housed a Studebaker manufacturing plant, according to the company's website. The company receives materials including scrap metal, electronic appliances and road asphalt, and sorts the materials for recycling. In 2008, the company won a "Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence" from the state for its innovations in recycling.
Media members were barred from entering the property Tuesday, but could see the outside of a small metal building where the explosion and fire took place.
Buchanon said firefighters were familiar with the property because Green Tech had allowed the department's tactical rescue team to practice on the 52-acre campus that abuts a wooded area of Rum Village Park.
Buchanon said he was unaware of the department ever being called to respond to an emergency there before Tuesday.