Biofuel Plant Blaze in NM

Thursday, May 29, 2014 @ 05:05 PM gHale

A biofuel facility in New Mexico caught fire Tuesday, sending a giant column of black smoke into the air and prompting authorities to evacuate an area that includes about 350 homes.

There were a series of small explosions at the Rio Valley Biofuels plant near the town of Anthony, but there was no immediate word of any injuries, Dona Ana County spokesman Jess Williams said. Operations manager Jed Smith said he believed all five employees who work at the plant got out uninjured.

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County officials activated their emergency operations center and declared a hazardous materials emergency, Williams said. The immediate area ended up evacuated, but by early afternoon residents returned to their homes.

Anthony is on the New Mexico-Texas line between Las Cruces, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.

Witnesses described hearing loud explosions and seeing large flames as fire trucks and emergency responders rushed to the scene.

The first fire report came in just after after 9 a.m. A Rio Valley Biofuels manager said it was out about 2½ hours later. Crews were still dousing the site with water several hours after the incident.

Williams and Smith said officials are still investigating the cause of the fire.

The half-mile area around the plant ended up evacuated because of the threat of blasts from the methanol on the premises, authorities said. Other chemicals on site include vegetable oil, hydrochloric acid and bio-diesel fuel.

According to Rio Valley Biofuels’ website, the company began commercially producing bio-diesel fuel from recycled oil from local food processors in 2006. The company said it gets oil from sources that include vegetable oil, crude cottonseed, sunflower, soy, palm and canola.

The plant produces between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons a day, the company website says.

County hazardous-materials specialists plan to inspect the site further to determine what chemicals ended up released in the fire.

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