Evacuations lifted near Waxahachie chemical fire

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WFAA

Posted on October 3, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 3 at 8:27 PM

Magnablend fire location

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WAXAHACHIE — A fire chief said the Waxahachie chemical fire that led to a civil emergency for Ellis County and the evacuation of about 1,000 people is now 80 percent contained and should be extinguished in the next few hours.

The massive fire at the Magnablend chemical plant resulted in the Civil Authority announcing the emergency message. The Waxahachie fire chief said the fire started when chemicals were being mixed at the plant and had a bad reaction, creating an explosion.

No injuries were reported.

At 8 p.m. Monday, John Arden Drive and the Highway 87 Bypass remained closed between the Waxahachie Civic Center and Solon Road.

An Ellis County official said all remaining evacuees were cleared to return to their homes and businesses.

A large plume of smoke could be seen as far as downtown Dallas from the quick-moving fire at the chemical manufacturing plant in the 1600 block of West 287 in Waxahachie, 30 miles south of Dallas. Containers holding unknown liquids could be seen exploding and melting.

That black smoke turned to white smoke around 3:30 p.m. as the flames were nearly extinguished.

By five o'clock, Waxahachie Fire-Rescue Chief David Hudgins said most of the people evacuated at the height of the fire were being allowed to return to their homes and businesses.

"We will not leave the area until there is zero smoke coming from the building, so that means we'll be here all night and probably into tomorrow," Hudgins said. "Basically ... we've been told there's not anything to worry about."

Officials said there are definitely contaminants in the air and asked people in the surrounding areas to evacuate or stay indoors, saying the air contains elements dangerous to breathe in and to the skin. Firefighters battling the blaze and DPS troopers were equipped with Hazmat suits and troopers were placed throughout the area blocking access to drivers.

But late Monday afternoon, EPA spokesman Nicholas Brescia said the results of preliminary air tests were in.

"At this point currently, we have not seen any significant levels that would cause a public health concern, that is off-site," he said. "We will continue doing particulate air monitoring."

The fire, which broke out at about 11 a.m. and quickly consumed the Magnablend facility, led to concern for surrounding areas, including the nearby Wedgeworth Elementary School and other nearby buildings and residential homes.

All students and staff at the elementary were asked to remain inside in case of any dangerous gases that may be released by the fire. By noon, the elementary students could be seen being escorted outside Wedgeworth and being put onto buses. They were transported to the Waxahachie Ninth Grade Academy, located at 275 Indian Drive.

Students and staff at the Life School Red Oak Elementary and Secondary campuses have also been asked to remain inside as a precaution. The DeSoto Independent School District closed early at 2 p.m.

Chief Hudgins said all schools would reopen on Tuesday.

Large explosion after explosion could be seen as the fire spread throughout the warehouse, which is a custom chemical manufacturing and blending plant that also packages chemicals. One of those explosions created a concerning large brown cloud, according the WFAA's Gary Ultee while flying above in HD Chopper 8.

Ultee also said a man on a forklift could be seen removing containers away from the massive fire. The blaze moved so quickly, it engulfed a fire truck at the scene as firefighters nearby battled the blaze, which ate away at the truck, leaving only the frame visible inside the ball of fire.

According to Magnablend's website, 85 employees work at the plant. Employees have been evacuated and OSHA has been called to the scene. Those in surrounding areas have been asked to stay inside and keep doors and windows shut as there is an uncertainty to the dangers and toxicity of the chemicals burning into the air.

"The most important thing would be avoidance," said Dr. Gary Weinstein, with Texas Health. "If you have to be outside, you should wear a mask and try to minimize your exposure."

"My main concern when I got here was ensuring that everyone got out of the plant and were accounted for, which they are; everyone is safe at this time," said Donald Golden, with Magnablend. "That was the best news I got so far. Now, were just waiting to hear from the fire department as they respond to the fire."

Golden said the most flammable chemical they have on site is methanol, petroleum-based oils and fertilizer-making materials.

"A lot of our products are kept in drums, and so unfortunately what is happening is they heat up," Golden said. "As the pressure builds up, we keep hearing those pops as those drums open up. Primarily what we handle at this facility are agricultural products and some oil field related products."

The fire was also spreading close to some train cars nearby. Golden said some of the cars were full and others empty. Those that were full contained choline chloride and oils, according to Golden.

"[Choline chloride] is a fairly benign product," he said. "It's not flammable, combustible, toxic."

The veteran Waxahachie fire chief said this fire ranked among the worst he's seen.

"As far as my scale of 1-to-10 as being worried — 10 being the worst — I was at a good 9-1/2," Hudgins said.

WFAA's Cynthia Izaguirre and Janet St. James and WFAA.com's Marjorie Owens contributed to this report

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