No timetable for end to fire at Texas chemical facility

No timetable for end to fire at Texas chemical facility

An explosion and flareup at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park was seen from SKY2 Wednesday evening, hours after the the fire at the tank farm was said to be extinguished.

Officials said Tuesday that they're not sure when a fire at a Houston-area petrochemicals storage facility will burn itself out, but they are confident that the air quality is safe, despite the huge plume of smoke coming from the blaze. "Crews continue to spray foam and water on the tanks to facilitate cooling and prevent reigniting of the remaining material".

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a news conference that monitors show the levels of contaminants in the air are safe and that the plume coming from the site in Deer Park, southeast of Houston, is reaching at least 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) up and staying high enough so that the air quality at ground level is safe.

No serious injuries have been reported and the cause of the blaze is still under investigation. Most of the chemicals involved in the fire are used to produce gasoline and base oil, a machinery lubricant, though one of the tanks that caught fire on Monday was holding gallons of toluene, a chemical used in nail polish remover.

A special firefighting team from Louisiana fought the fire with foam and water and ultimately succeeded in dousing the intense flames.

Deer Park and the school district in neighboring La Porte planned to resume classes on Tuesday. Local schools have been closed.

"Weather forecasts for Tuesday night and Wednesday call for conditions that could cause the smoke plume from the fire to directly affect our school district and, in an abundance of caution, La Porte ISD has chose to cancel classes for Wednesday, March 20", according to the district's statement.

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The agency, which maintains permanent stationary air monitors in the heavily industrialized region, said it deployed two additional air-monitoring stations to the area and that staff are conducting hand-held air monitoring "and overseeing collection of sampling in nearby waterways".

"All the monitors are indicating no risk right now and they are looking at particulates", said Ryan Sitton, a commissioner with the state's energy regulator, adding there were no toxins released by the fire.

A total of eight tanks have caught fire with blazes at two brought under control by emergency services. "I guess we'll be OK".

A claims hotline has been set up for businesses and individuals affected by the fire.

"By (Wednesday) morning we'll know a lot better of how bad this situation is going to last", Russell said at an afternoon ITC news conference.

She estimated that about 30% of the employees live in Deer Park. "Hemminger indicated that in fire incidents of this scale, small flare-ups are expected and first responders plan to address these issues as they occur". "So of course, ITC would apologize to any of them".

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Harris County have been in legal battles over spills at the facility in previous years, according to court documents.

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