Fire that produced huge plume finally out at Texas chemical plant

A fire burning since Sunday morning and sending a huge plume of thick black smoke into the air at a Houston-area petrochemicals storage facility was extinguished early Wednesday, the tank farm’s owner said.

Intercontinental Terminals Company said flames in all the tanks that were burning were out by 3 a.m. local time.

Crews were still spraying foam and water on the tanks to hasten their cooling and keep them from reigniting, ITC said, adding that steam and smoke could still be seen rising from the scene even though the blaze was over.

No serious injuries were reported, ITC said, adding that air quality readings remained “well below hazardous levels.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a news conference Tuesday that monitors showed the plume coming from the site in Deer Park, southeast of Houston, was reaching at least 4,000 feet up and staying high enough so that the air quality at ground level was safe.

Smoke and steam are seen coming from ITC chemicals facility in Deer Park, Texas, near Houston early on March 20, 2019 KHOU-TV

“It’s understandable why people would be scared,” said Hidalgo, the county’s top administrator. “We’re sharing information with the public so that everybody knows what we know, what we’re doing and where we’re headed.”

But Jorge Guerra, whyo loives three miles away, told CBS News, “I’ve seen ash fall out — black pieces of ash,” Guerra said. “I’ve seen it on my cars, I’ve seen it on the front porch on the sidewalk. Does that scare you? It does, it does. What scares me more is what we don’t see.”

The fire remained intense enough Tuesday to create its own micro weather system, causing shifting winds in the area, officials said.

The head of the county’s health department, Dr. Umair Shah, said, “There continues to be low risk to our community,” but vulnerable groups such as the elderly and pregnant women should be cautious.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the company said eight tanks were on fire while the seven other tanks located in the same section of the storage facility weren’t.

Many schools in the area were slated to be closed as of Wednesday morning, reports CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV.

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