Plant fire in Texas spreads to 6 more tanks, shelter-in-place lifted

DEER PARK, Texas -- A fire burning for hours at the Intercontinental Terminals Company Deer Park facility spread to six more tanks overnight, bringing the total of tanks involved in the incident to eight, plant officials say.

EMBED More News Videos

Fire at ITC Deer Park plant spreads to 5 more tanks, shelter-in-place remains

La Porte ISD has canceled classes for March 18 out of an abundance of caution as a result of the fire.

The original fire started just before 11 a.m. Sunday in two tanks at the facility on Independence Parkway just north of Highway 225.

Company officials say the first tank that caught fire contains NAPHTHA, a component in gasoline. The fire then spread to a second tank containing XYLENE, another gasoline component. Another tank that caught fire contains Toluene, which is used in nail polish remover, glue and paint thinner, plant officials told Eyewitness News.

Both chemicals are flammable and can kill you if swallowed or if they enter the airway.

The facility says that the chemicals in the five newly-involved tanks contain gas blend stocks used in the production of finished gasoline and base oil commonly used as machine lubricants.

Firefighters are working to control the flames using fire foam. They're also trying to keep the fire from spreading further.

Air monitors have been testing the air in Deer Park and around the area to make sure it is still safe.

According to the latest statement from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, "the Channel Industries Mutual Aid (hazmat and fire responders for the petrochemical industry) is reporting a .05 ppm for Benzene at the fence line directly downwind of the plume, which means that results for hazardous particles near the fire are low."

"The air monitoring contractor is reporting that the measurement is below detection levels. They have been in 13 different areas of our community, monitoring the area to ensure that everyone in the community is safe," said ITC Public Information Officer Alice Richardson.

However, a mandatory shelter-in-place for the entire city of Deer Park has been lifted.

As a result of the fire, SH-225 was shut down in both directions from Beltway 8 to Independence Parkway but has since reopened. Independence Parkway remains closed in both directions near the facility.

What is a shelter-in-place?

EMBED More News Videos

What to do during a shelter in place

About 30 employees were on site when the fire started around Sunday morning at ITC, but officials said no one was hurt.

"These incidents should not happen. Every case I've been involved in in the past and currently it's not just one misstep, it's multiple missteps," said Attorney Mo Aziz, who is a partner with Abraham Watkins and has represented major cases from the West, Texas explosion to the Arkema plant fire after Hurricane Harvey.

"Really you just have to let it burn. We know in some cases like the Arkema case those went on for 48 hours and the residents could not go back to their homes for a week and a half," said Aziz.

EMBED More News Videos

Tank fire at Deer Park facility

According to ITC's website, the company has 13.1 million barrels of capacity in 242 tanks, and stores all kinds of petrochemical liquids and gases, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil, and distillates.

Late Sunday evening, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo decided to activate the emergency operations center.

Harris County Public Health also released a statement talking about the health effects.

It says the most common symptoms are coughing, difficulty breathing, burning, irritation, and redness to your eyes, nose and throat.

People may also experience headaches, nausea or dizziness.

If you're experiencing any symptoms, seek medical attention.

The cause of the fire is still undetermined.

Follow Jeff Ehling on Facebook and Twitter.
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.