A fire at a chemical yard near Houston is already in its third day, but firefighters expect it to continue for several more before they have any hope of putting it out.
The huge cloud of black smoke sent up by the fire can be seen up to 35 miles away, as the blaze continues to burn several tanks stocked with barrels of chemicals at the Houston Ship Channel.
Emergency workers say the fire that began Sunday with a leak in one of the tanks will need to burn itself out before they have any hope of stopping it. They’re attempting to drain at least one of the tanks to speed up that process.
At least eight tanks (one of which was empty) have caught fire since Sunday, and water shortages Monday evening complicated the situation for emergency crews.
By Tuesday afternoon, five tanks were still on fire while three had burnt out.
Firefighters have used fire retardant foam to try and keep the fire from spreading to more tanks.
A communications officer for Channel Industries Mutual Aid, which manages firefighters at the plants, said it will “probably” be two days before the fire is out.
Comparison pics of the smoke plume as seen from the Fred Hartman Bridge today (first pic) and Monday (second pic). Clearly it’s shifting, and while it still heads generally westward it also spreads farther north than it did Monday. MORE: https://t.co/OprttAK1oh 📷: Jaimie Meldrum pic.twitter.com/qt7rzkSiIX
— Travis Herzog (@TravisABC13) March 19, 2019
Two of the most common chemicals in the fire are naptha and xylene, which are mixed with gasoline and used to make products like solvents and plastics. Other tanks contained toluene, which is used to make nail polish remover and paint thinner.
No one has been injured by the fire so far, but nearby residents in the city of Deer Park were warned to keep indoors while the fire burns.
While some locals reported a chemical smell in the air Monday morning, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says they have “not detected any immediate health concerns at ground level” Monday, but planned to run more tests using specialized aircraft.
Experts say that while the burning chemicals could cause health symptoms, the smoke is rising too high to have much of an effect.
Local schools were closed on Monday but reopened on Tuesday.
While it’s business at usual at the city’s nearby port, locals are stopping to capture dramatic photos of the plume of dark smoke hanging over the plant.
Some of the chemicals from the tanks have also washed into the Houston Ship Channel, which leads to the Gulf of Mexico. ITC is using booms to capture the spreading liquid and contain the chemicals.
The Houston Ship Channel processes 12 percent of America’s petrochemicals, processing more than 2.3 million barrels every day.