Because of the West, Texas, fire and explosion, a fire at a fertilizer plant in the town of Athens, Texas, made news in Texas, but it was not seen as anything more than another common fire like what occurs everywhere, every day across the nation by most national media.
A five-block radius of the downtown area of the town of about 13,000 was evacuated last Thursday evening during a fire that ultimately destroyed a fertilizer plant in Athens. The blaze first began at around 5:45 p.m., according to reports. Up to 300 residents who live near the fire stayed in shelters and hotels for the night.
The building in Athens was owned by East Texas AG Service. Their facility just received a 70-ton shipment of ammonium nitrate, according to CBSDFW.com, the same material that ignited and exploded at the West fertilizer facility in April of last year,
Emergency officials in Athens were immediately concerned about the possibility of an explosion. “We were scared. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” according to the mayor, Jerry Don Vaught, of the town of about 13,000 people.
There was no loss of life or injuries reported because of the fire in the town that is located about 70 miles southeast of Dallas. Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency conducted air quality tests and found nothing toxic in the atmosphere. The fire sent plumes of smoke high into the sky. Flames reportedly reached about 60 feet into the air, according to CBSDFW.com.
When emergency crews arrived at the fertilizer storage facility, the building was fully engulfed in flames. First responders made the decision to back off and take a defensive posture, allowing the fire to burn out on its own. Fire officials on Friday morning tore down what remained and doused the facility with heavy amounts of water.
The Texas State Chemist’s office inspected East Texas AG Service last year and found no violations. The company is believed to be up to date on its chemical registrations. A State Chemist’s office official provided a statement that the facility was inspected with great care and attention to possible deficiencies based on what had occurred at the West fire and explosion.
The operator of the fertilizer warehouse left the facility about 35 minutes before fire crews found the building engulfed in flames, again according to CBSDFW.com. In tyical fashion for a fire of unknown origin, the fire scene is being treated as a crime scene and an investigation is proceeding to see how the fire started.
When asked Friday if the fertilizer plant should not be located in the center of town, Mayor Vaught was quoted as saying, “We’ll have to determine. I felt like it has been safe for many years. It has been over 50 years that it was there and it has always been a safe situation, until what happened in West.”