SKOWHEGAN — A short circuit in the wiring of a fire suppression system at the Irving Circle K service station Sunday is the apparent reason why a plume of white powder was released onto cars and people.

No one was seriously injured, but several people were taken to the hospital to be checked out for possible respiratory problems. Others were examined at the scene on Route 201.

A cloud of white powder blasted from about 50 hoses mounted in the canopy of the station’s gas-pumping area about 12:30 p.m.

The thick powder obscured the station from view from the road and briefly closed the busy highway. The cloud drifted to the Tractor Supply shopping center across the road, then dissipated.

Skowhegan Fire Chief Tom Keene said there was no fire, and the release was not a result of human error and was not manually activated.

“It was a short circuit caused by water into the conduit,” Keene said.

“It’s weather-tight stuff, but I guess over time one just loosened up, caused a short and triggered the discharge,” Keene said.

Keene said the chemical was a nontoxic compound that can cause mild eye and throat irritation but is not life-threatening. The chemical is called ABC powder, mostly a sodium bicarbonate, used in dry-powder fire extinguishers.

One woman was taken to the hospital by ambulance and two others went by private vehicle, all with respiratory complaints. A spokesman at Redington-Fairview General Hospital did not return a call asking whether anyone had been admitted. Keene said that if someone had been injured badly enough to be hospitalized, his department would have been notified.

A crew from Clean Harbors of Portland arrived at the station about 7 p.m. Sunday to clean up.

“It was a freak thing,” Keene said of the incident. “It did what it was supposed to do. There just wasn’t any fire to put out.”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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