An explosion and fire at a chemical plant northeast of Houston left one person dead and two battling for their lives, just two weeks after a blaze at an oil storage facility caused thousands of gallons of petrochemicals to flow into the city’s shipping channel.
Plumes of black smoke that could be seen 25 miles away began to subside at about 1:30 p.m. local time as firefighters fought to contain the blaze. The priority is to make sure it doesn’t spread to other tanks containing flammable materials, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a press conference.
“This still a dynamic situation,” he said. “Our main focus right now is to make sure we’re in support to contain this.”
Students near the fire at the KMCO LLC plant in Crosby and residents within a one-mile radius were instructed to remain inside. Sheldon Independent School District lifted a “shelter in place” order at just before 2 p.m. to allow parents to pick up their kids from school. The Crosby plant is a chemicals blending facility which makes products used in brake fluid, antifreeze and in oil production and refining, according to its website.
The fire started on a line transferring isobutylene, a flammable gas, before spreading to a warehouse containing dry chemicals, Gonzalez said. A spokeswoman for the Harris County Fire Marshall’s office said the blaze “should be out soon” as long as it doesn’t spread to nearby storage facilities.
The disaster comes just two weeks after oil storage tanks owned by Mitsui & Co.’s Intercontinental Terminal Co. burned for four days, causing thousands of gallons of gasoline products to pour into the Houston Ship Channel. As many as 1,000 people sought medical attention due to smoke and benzene levels in the air and the waterway was shuttered for days, starving refineries of feedstocks.
KMCO is owned by Owner Resource Group LLC , a private equity firm based in Austin, Texas. Its sites in Crosby and Port Arthur have the capacity to produce more than 900 million pounds (410 million kilograms) a year of chemicals. The Crosby site has 28 reactors and more than 600 chemical storage tanks, according to KMCO’s website.