NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
WAXAHACHIE — Two weeks ago, a chemical plant in Waxahachie erupted in flames. Clouds of toxic smoke and rivers of fire came spewing out of the plant.
No one was seriously injured in what officials said was a rare mishap. But should Waxahachie fire officials have done more to anticipate this kind of accident?
When Waxahachie and Ennis firefighters arrived at the scene on October 3, they were all acutely aware that any fire at the Magnablend chemical mixing plant could be deadly.
Inside the facility was a potentially lethal collection of toxins and flammables with diminishing hopes of containment.
Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins shared with News 8 his department schematic as well as his strategy. With that fire on that day, he was taking no chances.
"I did not feel safe with my engine crew over on the north side because smoke was coming out," Chief Hudgins said. "I did not feel comfortable with them on that side. But then we started losing the wall on the backside."
Minutes later, the entire complex was a loss.
Now come the key question: Could the fire have ever been contained once it got started?
Hudgins said the chemical blending plant's sprinkler system was old and possibly inadequate when Magnablend moved there in December 2008.
"Sometimes when people move out of a building and somebody else moves in, there could be a mistake; you could need a bigger system, but we are not the experts to tell you that," Hudgins said.
According to fire department records, the plant's sprinkler system has never been analyzed.
The plant was inspected twice by the Waxahachie fire marshal — once when Magnablend moved in and again during a a 30-minute walk-through in February of this year.
Apart from some blocked exits, the fire marshal said the plant "appeared to be in good condition and its housekeeping looked good."
Records also show that Magnablend's sister plant — on the north end of town and a plant with even more dangerous chemicals than the one that that erupted in flames — has not been officially inspected by the Waxahachie Fire Department since June 2007.
Chief Hudgins confirmed what the records indicate: That plant has no sprinkler system at all. Hudgins said it wasn't required when the plant was grandfathered after the area was annexed by the city in 1985.
Moving forward, Chief Hudgins said he will propose a new ordinance requiring a thorough inspection — by a qualified fire protection engineer — of every building in Waxahachie whose owner is applying for a certificate of occupancy.
He also said his department has learned from this experience and vows to review every facility that poses a public safety risk.
"We will look at all of our plants again," Hudgins said. "Any time that you have something like this happen, you have to go back and re-evaluate."
Chief Hudgins briefed Waxahachie City Council members Monday night on the chemical plant fire and on his proposal to make the city safer in the future. Among his recommendations: Adding a fire safety engineer and more inspectors.