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Massive fire at Houston petrochemical storage terminal may last two more days

A massive fire at a fuels storage company along the Houston Ship Channel may burn for two more days, an official said on Monday (March 18) as the blaze spread a plume of black smoke across the city, shutting schools in two nearby communities.

The fire began Sunday morning in a giant storage tank containing naphtha, a volatile substance used to create octane-boosting components of gasoline.

No injuries were reported from the fire but nearby residents were initially encouraged to remain indoors. The entire city of Deer Park, Texas, a Houston suburb, was told to shelter in doors all day Sunday. The order was lifted Monday.

“It’s going to be probably two days,” said Ray Russell, communications officer for Channel Industries Mutual Aid, which coordinates firefighting departments from ship channel plants.

No employees at the facility were missing and no injuries were reported, Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) the operator of the storage facility, said in a statement. The risk of explosion was “minimal” but ITC was attempting to drain naphtha from one of the burning tanks, it said.

ITC Public Information Officer Alice Richardson said that air quality control tests showed levels were below what would represent a “health concern.”

School officials in Deer Park, population 32,000, and nearby La Porte, Texas, with about 34,000 residents, suspended classes and told employees not to report to work on Monday.

Seven tanks containing naphtha and xylene, petrochemicals used to make gasoline and base oils commonly used as machine lubricants, were burning, ITC officials said. On Monday, a tank containing Toluene also caught fire. Toluene is used to manufacture nail polish remover and paint thinner.

The burning tanks are surrounded by other storage tanks within a spill containment dike. Firefighters used a foam fire retardant on nearby tanks to try to limit the fire from spreading.

(Production: Kristin Neubauer)

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