CEO reveals what was inside warehouse that burned to the ground in Spring Branch

Officials clean contaminated water in fire's aftermath

SPRING BRANCH, Texas – Business owner Traci Willis said it was one of her managers who called 911 and reported the fire.

The four-alarm fire broke out just before 10 a.m. at A-1 Custom Packaging at a business complex in the 1700 block of Laverne Drive that holds a gun shop and several other companies.

Willis and the worker saw smoke and flames at the business behind them, and it spread to Willis’ custom packing warehouse.

"I was the one that pulled into work at 9:30 a.m., and I saw smoke coming from behind the building," Willis said.

A spokesperson with the Houston Fire Department believes that is what happened, but arson investigators are still trying to determine the cause.

Willis grew up in the Spring Branch area and this community is very near and dear to her heart. She’s sad to see the creek and other areas polluted because of the run-off. 

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told us in an email, they looked at the 5-year compliance report for the business and the business was never in any violation during that time. 

"We've been doing this for so long and have never had any other accident," Willis said.

Her parents bought this business back in the ‘80s. Willis became owner just a few months ago when her parents passed away only 12 weeks apart.

The workers at A-1 Custom Packaging, box different products for an assortment of customers.

"Fly spray for horses. It has citronella in it and different products,” Willis said. “Then we also do fuel additives for one of our customers. We do shampoo, and a lot of different things.”

The company mixes the products and bottles them up, Willis said.

"We are up to code with every permit the city requires — there's a lot of them.”

Willis said the fire department came in and signed off on the company’s permit. She said the business has been following regulations.

"We're really the victim — even my employees,” she said. “They have no job to go to now."

Willis doesn’t know if she is going to rebuild.  She hopes to. She has 15 employees who lost their jobs because of this fire, and she would like to reopen for them. 

In the fire's aftermath, HFD officials advised people living in the surrounding neighborhoods to avoid water run-off, which was contaminated with a red substance.

As school got out Thursday afternoon at nearby Valley Oak Elementary School, children came face to face with the smell and color.

The smell filled the air as parents worried about the red substance, which authorities said contains pesticides and petroleum additives.

Firefighters said environmental contractors have contained the petroleum additives in areas of Spring Branch creek. Unfortunately, contractors said the pesticides are water soluble and impossible to remove.  

"On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 10. My son plays here every day and we walk by here every day," a resident said.

Hours after the red chemical entered the water, Hazmat crews bought a boom in to try and absorb some of the chemical near Westview Drive. Anytime the wind blew the strong smell, similar to that of strong cleaning chemicals, filled the air.

While cleaning crews found various dead animals including varieties of fish, turtles and snakes.

"It smells like DEET, like mosquito repellent. Really strong chemicals," the resident said.

The Houston Fire Department asked people to avoid the water earlier Friday, issuing a statement that read:

"The area of Spring Branch Creek and surrounding ditches and culverts should be avoided until authorities complete testing and deem them safe. Diking and boom operations are  currently underway along with environmental contractors on sight performing  environmental  cleanup. Although, recent rainfall and flooding is assisting with dilution, citizens should avoid those water run-off areas until further notice."

Firefighters were at the sight Friday extinguishing on-going minor flares and hotspots. 

No injuries were reported. 

A shelter in place was issued for the Spring Branch area and lifted four hours later.

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