Fears Follow Fertilizer Facility Fire

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 @ 10:06 AM gHale

Scary moments led to an evacuation of a five-block area as a large fire at a fertilizer storage facility in downtown Athens, TX, burned itself out Friday morning after starting up Thursday night.

In a move to exercise caution, Fire Chief John McQueary said they contained the smoldering fire Friday morning, but an evacuation ordered early Thursday night in the town of about 13,000 remained in effect.

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McQueary said they cordoned off up to a five-block area. Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said 350 people had to evacuate.

The fire broke out at the East Texas Ag Supply lot at about 6 p.m. Thursday. Police cordoned off a five-block radius out from the facility. As of 7:30 p.m., however, aerial video showed where there had been a 60-foot column of flames, there was now little more than a smoking ruin framed by charred walls.

There was no explosion and no injuries reported.

The mayor of Athens, Jerry Don Vaught, said about 300 to 350 residents have been displaced.

“Our main priority is safety and security of our citizens and this is what I’m very proud of our first responders having taken care of,” Vaught said.

“They go through a lot of training especially after what happened in West,” Vaught said. “There was a lot of communities that did lots of training to prepare for something like this.”

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality will have to test air quality before residents can return home.

“The building has been around for over 50 years,” Vaught said. “It has always been a fertilizer storage building and until this, nothing has ever happened there.”

The cause of the fire is unknown.

Fertilizer fires have been of concern in Texas since an April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion killed 15, injured about 200 others and devastated the Central Texas town of West.

Athens, a town of about 13,000 residents, is about 70 miles southeast of Dallas.

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