Fire sparks chemical plant evacuation

A frame grab provided by shows black smoke billowing from a fire at the Magnablend Chemical Plant on Monday in Waxahachie. The fire, which started from mixed chemicals, prompted an area school and other buildings to evacuate students.
Associated Press

By Daniel C. Houston
Staff Writer

WAXAHACHIE— Fire engulfed a Waxahachie chemical-mixing facility Monday, destroying the complex and emitting a cloud of smoke that could be seen clearly on the horizon more than 60 miles away in Waco.

Waxahachie fire chief and Baylor graduate David Hudgins said fire authorities were able to bring the blaze under control by mid-afternoon but were not able to salvage any significant part of the facility.

Associated Press reported Monday that Magnablend spokesman Donald Golden told WFAA-TV that 25 to 30 employees were inside the plant’s 100,000-square-foot warehouse but no employees or emergency personnel were injured.

“Our fire department responded as did many agencies from the surrounding cities, and I think when we got here there were flames coming out the back of the building,” Amy Hollywood, public information officer for the city of Waxahachie, said. “Within just no time it was fully involved with multiple explosions.”

A spokesman for Magnablend Inc., the chemical-mixing company whose facility was destroyed, was not available by Monday’s deadline to speak on the cause of the fire.

Hudgins said the fire could have been caused by an electrical malfunction, a bad chemical mixture or a host of other possibilities that may never be completely known.

“All we know is that they were mixing chemicals and they had some kind of reaction that was not normal,” Hudgins said. “It was almost like steam or something like that that was coming out of this large vat, thousands of gallons, and at that point they decided to go ahead and start the evacuation.”

While the chemical smoke produced by the fire could be seen for miles, air tests gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency did not reveal particles that would be dangerous to inhale, Hollywood said.

“The EPA has been doing air testing. They’ve had fly overs and they’ve taken samples and they found no particulates, no harmful particles in the air and no what they refer to as an ‘action-level’ [threat],” Hollywood said. “So at this point, the results show no threat to public health.”

One fire truck was destroyed when a tank of chemicals spilled out of the building, changing the course of the fire and igniting the vehicle, Hudgins said.

City officials, worried the fire could spread beyond the limits of the Magnablend property, ordered a local elementary school and other buildings near the area evacuated until the fire was brought under control, Hudgins said.

Aside from a small grass fire across the access road, the fire was successfully contained.

“Our main concern was that we had several tank cars over there, and if one of them had caught on fire, they can shoot off like a rocket,” Hudgins said. “They were all aimed these two directions, so we had to evacuate everything [in those directions].”