Anaheim Refinery Blast Kills Worker, Injures His Brother

Times Staff Writer

An explosion, apparently triggered by overheated zinc powder, rocked an Anaheim metal refinery Tuesday, killing one worker and injuring his brother who was working nearby.

Jorge Robledo, 30, of Placentia was dead on arrival at Placentia Linda Community Hospital, authorities said.

His brother, Gerardo, of Anaheim, was treated for burns, cuts and bruises. Officials said that Gerardo tried to revive his brother at the scene before being hospitalized. Three men from nearby businesses who rushed to the plant to help evacuate employees were also hospitalized briefly because they inhaled zinc dust from the blast. The three, along with Gerardo Robledo, were later released.

The explosion occurred at 10:50 a.m. at the Pease & Curren Reliable Recovery Inc. refinery in the 1300 block of North Brasher Street.


‘Sounded Like a Sonic Boom’

“It sounded like a sonic boom, then I saw a cloud of yellow smoke,” said Brian Silva, 17, who was riding his bike with friends about a block away from the plant.

Silva, who is training with the Orange County Fire Department, ran to the back of the plant and started a CPR procedure on Jorge Robledo’s chest, while Robledo’s brother began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Jorge Robledo “had burns over 90% of his body,” Silva said.


Ten other workers, who were inside the building when the explosion occurred, escaped unharmed. Seven firefighters exposed to the zinc were given a special cleaning at the scene, but they were not injured.

The company recovers and refines gold, silver and platinum used for dental work and electronic circuit boards, a company spokesman said.

The employees were transferring the zinc powder, which is used in the metal-recovery process, so that it could be legally disposed of, according to Barbara Burke, a spokeswoman for the city of Anaheim. “For some unknown reason, the zinc exploded,” she said.

Authorities closed off Brasher Street between La Palma and Hunter avenues while they interviewed plant workers to determine what chemicals were inside.


The Orange County Sheriff’s Department bomb squad was called to the scene because it was determined that the zinc powder had become explosive. Zinc powder is an oxidizer which can explode when exposed to oxygen. Officials later said that it was not harmful to those who inhaled it.

The plant was evacuated after the morning explosion. About 3 p.m., there were two simultaneous explosions inside the plant, which officials said probably were caused by spontaneous combustion. No one was injured.

At 5 p.m., Burke said that firefighters and officials from the county’s bomb squad and hazardous materials team probably would stay at the refinery for another 8 to 14 hours.