A petrochemical fire at a Deer Park plant could burn for two more days, officials said Monday morning, one day after the fire broke out.
Emergency crews, including the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, have been trying to control the fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company, which erupted about 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
No injuries have been reported.
Deer Park officials on Monday lifted the shelter-in-place, but the fire has now spread to a total of eight tanks, one of which was empty, officials said. The affected tanks all contained gasoline components.
Risk of explosion is minimal, plant officials said, adding that crews are taking precautions to reduce that possibility.
Deer Park emergency officials said at 5:30 a.m. that no air quality readings from the fire at ITC “have exceeded action levels.”
Air quality levels are currently listed as “moderate,” according to AirNow.gov.
Low levels of particulate matter have been detected, and a “single volatile organic compound detection” has been found about 6 miles southwest of the facility, according to ITC news release.
The air quality readings are currently below hazardous levels, ITC said.
The chemicals in most of the involved tanks are used in the production of finished gasoline and base oil used in machine lubricants, according to a news release from Intercontinental Terminals Company. The chemical in one newly involved tank, Toluene, is used in the production of nail polish remover, glues and paint thinner, according to ITC.
The chemicals in the original two tanks that caught fire are Naphtha and Xylene, both components in gasoline. Naphtha can irritate the nose and throat when breathed, and poisonous gases are produced when it’s exposed to fire.
Deer park officials have re-opened State Highway 225. Portions of Independence Parkway will remain closed until further notice.
Meanwhile, Deer Park Independent School District closed all campuses today, as well as all after school activities. La Porte ISD also canceled classes.
“Emergency Services Director Robert Hemminger indicated that this is still a dynamic incident and air monitoring will continue,” according to a tweet from the Deer Park Emergency Management Office. “Residents are encouraged to monitor City social media for updates.”
The smoke from the fire has residents concerned.
Bernice Oehrlein, 78, pushed a cart in the morning through the Food Town grocery store in Deer Park, about 5 miles southwest of the plant. She recently had a bad bout with pneumonia, so the fire is concerning for health reasons, she said.
“It’s kind of scary,” Oehrlein said. “I have a hard time breathing anyways.”
At a Starbucks just down the road, Cindy Richards and her daughter drank coffee instead of going on their normal Monday walk.
Richards, a 67-year-old who lives in Pasadena, recalled the drive to Deer Park, before she realized a fire had clouded up the sky.
“I was like, ‘It’s a little overcast,'” she said. “I come a little closer — ‘That’s smoke.'”
Her daughter, Robyn French, 35, lives close to the plant with her husband and two children. Flares, smoke and a gassy smell have become normal to her. This is not normal, she said.
“When it’s burning tanks full of chemicals, that’s a little bit different,” French said.
She made sure Sunday and Monday that her son wasn’t outside breathing in any chemicals. But the unknown is also concerning.
“Am I still able to eat the Swiss chard and kale I’m growing in my garden?” She asked. “That’s a valid question to me. Will my oranges be full of chemicals next year when they’re grown?”