Texas Chemical Fire Forces School Evacuation

A fire broke out at a Texas chemical plant yesterday, hurling huge columns of black smoke and orange flames, said The Associated Press (AP). School children and area residents had to either evacuate or turn inside to escape exposure to potentially hazardous gases.

Officials ordered those who lived closest to the plant to evacuate; other residents were told to remain inside with their doors and windows shut, said the AP. The fire surrounded the large Magnablend Inc. plant and complex located in Waxahachie, Texas, about 30 miles south of Dallas, said the AP. About 25,000 people live in Waxahachie.

The fire spread rapidly, quickly overpowering the location’s sprinkler system and incinerating one fire truck; no injuries were reported as a result of the smoke and fire, added the AP. According to Waxahachie’s Fire Chief, David Hudgins, the chemicals that caused the fire were not initially known. Some 1,000 evacuated area residents were permitted to return home by Monday evening, when the blaze was approximately 95% contained, Waxahachie Fire Department spokeswoman Amy Hollywood told the AP.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a statement that it monitored air quality both on the ground and via a special airplane that passed through the smoke on several occasions, said the AP. So far, no elevated levels of toxic chemicals have been found, said officials; however, the agency said it “will continue to conduct ground level air monitoring,” the AP reported.

Although the flames were not visible in the later afternoon, there were concerns that the fire sent out toxic substances, said the EPA, wrote CNN. An agency spokesperson said that small levels of two chemicals were detected but not considered of danger to those in the fire’s vicinity, said EPA; however, a Dallas-based EPA spokesman, Dave Bary, said that the most ubiquitous chemical documented by Magnablend and that is produced at the plant, is anhydrous ammonia, said CNN. The EPA official noted that 48,630 pounds of the chemical, which, when released, produces a toxic gas downwind, were reported at the site. It remains unknown how much anhydrous ammonia was released during the fire.

Donald Golden, a Magnablend spokesman, told WFAA-TV that 25 to 30 employees inside the plant when the fire sparked, were able to safely evacuate. The plant is a 100,000-square-foot warehouse, noted the AP. All employees made it out prior to 11:00 a.m. According to Golden, Magnablend makes about 200 products and some are hazardous if lit, said the AP.

An area hotel turned off its air vents, but Jessenia Colin, an assistant general manager there said, “It smells like a whole bunch of chemicals, like wrappers burning…. It’s making everyone’s heads hurt,” the AP wrote. Restaurateur Stephanie Otto was preparing to open when she said she heard sirens and saw a “huge plume,” wrote the AP. “It was huge,” Otto said. “It looked like an atomic bomb went off,” the AP added.

Since 1979, Magnablend Inc. has made, blended, and packaged chemicals that focus on energy production and involve compounds that stimulate oil and gas wells and hydraulic fracturing—fracturing. The firm employs 250 in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Texas, said the AP.

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