Rural Texas chemical plant fire extinguished

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) -A fire at a rural chemical distribution plant northeast of Houston was extinguished by 4 p.m. CDT (2200 GMT), a county emergency services department said on Wednesday.

For much of the day, county officials told residents within one mile of Sound Resource Solutions located 61 miles (99 km) northeast of Houston to shelter in homes and businesses as crews sprayed foam to extinguish burning chemicals contained in trucks and buildings at the plant in a rural area near Shepherd, Texas.

Towns near the large black smoke plume rising from the fire also issued shelter-in-place orders for part of the day.

Emmitt Eldridge, San Jacinto County emergency management coordinator, said the fire began after a worker operating a forklift noticed chemicals leaking from a container at the plant.

“He then went to lift it up (using the forklift) and the worker then saw there was a fire,” Eldridge said.

Eldridge said did not know if the fire was already burning before the container was lifted.

The forklift operator was injured in the fire and taken to a Houston hospital for treatment of burns, which were described as minor.

“He’s going to be home with his family this evening,” said Geoff Harfield, owner of Sound Resource Solutions.

Officials said about 19 people were working at the facility when the fire began shortly after 8 a.m. All had been accounted for.

Sound Resource Solutions blends, packages and distributes oilfield and other industrial chemicals including sulfuric acid, acetone and petrochemicals like xylene and toluene, according to the company’s website.

U.S. Highway 59 was closed between Shepherd and Livingston, Texas because of the fire.

Rural Texas communities have been frequent sites of chemical plant explosions and fires.

In 2013, 15 people were killed and 160 injured in a fertilizer storage facility explosion in the town of West, Texas.

Four towns in east Texas were evacuated when a TPC Group butadiene plant exploded in Port Neches, Texas in 2018.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by David Gregorio)