Cleanup begins at site of Waxahachie chemical fire

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on October 4, 2011 at 5:39 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 4 at 6:02 PM

Magnablend fire location

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WAXAHACHIE — Firefighters, health and environmental officials remain at the scene of Monday's massive industrial fire in Waxahachie.

The campus of Navarro College remained closed after the Magnablend chemical plant exploded in flames.

While the fire is contained, firefighters have been maintaining a vigil at the site to stop any flareups. The official cause remains under investigation.

But despite the massive plume of smoke that rose from the fire, the Environmental Protection Agency maintains that the air is safe to breathe.

Investigators did reveal that the fire was likely caused by a spark while workers were mixing 7,000 gallons of chemicals Monday morning.

The plant was still smoldering at 5 o'clock Tuesday afternoon, and the air was tinged with a stench of lingering chemicals.

As crews vacuumed noxious runoff from drainage ditches surrounding the plant, New Hope Childcare Center worker Tila Janes welcomed children back to her facility a few blocks away.

"We do what they tell us to do," she said.

But with a heavy chemical smoke in the air and smoke still rising across the street, it's difficult for many Waxahachie residents to relax.

"Our children was our main concern," Janes said. "We've got somebody's kids, and we're here to take care of them."

One day after the Magnablend chemical plant erupted, health officials continued to insist there is no public threat... even as the EPA and state authorities continued testing the air and the putrid runoff water from the charred ruins.

"There's a lot of bad smells out there, and that does not not necessarily equate with causing harm to the public," explained Ellis County Health Officer Glenn Ledbetter.

The Magnablend plant mixed everything from animal feed to natural gas fracking liquids. But officials still cannot say exactly what chemicals burned.

"As fast a fire as we had moving, there was no way to go through the chemicals," said Waxahachie Fire-Rescue Chief David Hudgins. "There was no way to go through and tell exactly what the quantity of those chemicals were in each part of the plant."

The plume of thick smoke is what most troubled authorities on Monday. Even though that has now cleared, some fear remains.

"I'll be foolish not to be concerned, but yes, I know there's a higher being and he watches over us," Janes said.

The Magnablend fire has troubled safey advocates who are raising questions about whether such potentially toxic chemicals should ever be handled so close to residential neighborhoods and schools.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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