Shelter-in-place order lifted after massive Houston warehouse fire

HOUSTON – A shelter-in-place order that was issued Monday for people within a 1-mile radius of a massive fire at a warehouse in southern Houston has been lifted.

The four-alarm fire was reported about 6:30 a.m. at a business called National Container Group at 13131 Almeda Road, near Almeda-Genoa Road.

Nearly 150 firefighters battled the warehouse fire.

The firm cleans chemical containers for reuse. 

The square containers and other plastic drums come to the facility empty by industry standards, according to Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena, but there are some residual chemicals that remain inside before they're cleaned and recycled.

Video from the scene showed black smoke and massive flames rising from the fire. People at the scene reported a strong odor coming from the blaze.

About 9:10 a.m., a formal shelter-in-place order was issued. That order was lifted about 11:45 a.m.

Pena said that a section of the warehouse that is burning houses chemical processing equipment, and the explosions are being caused by a buildup of pressure in containers of polyethylene.

"They would contain anything from bleaches to organic peroxides," Pena said.

But Monday, in the heat of the moment, it was nearly impossible to identify the leftover chemicals. Pena estimated that 1,000 250-gallon plastic totes burned in the fire.

Each, at some point, contained a chemical of some sort.

Cumulatively, the amounts of those chemicals may not be negligible to firefighters, nearby residents and Sims Bayou, which runs behind the facility, according to Channel 2 Investigators.

Monday, Channel 2 Investigates spotted EPA investigators on the scene of the warehouse fire.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also sent at least one investigator.

In 2010, a complaint leveled by an unidentified person took issue with the cleaning and recycling process at the facility:

PHOTOS: Viewer pictures of massive fire in southern Houston

"This drum reconditioning facility is mismanaging hazardous waste residue in the drums that come in for recycling. Residue leaks all over the floor. This also imperils the health of the employees. The facility accepts drums containing more waste than they are supposed to. Drums are scattered all over the place. Estimate over 100 drums," Pena said.

But the complaint could not be substantiated by an on-site TCEQ investigation less than a month later.

"The complaint could not be confirmed," the TCEQ's findings said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire or if there were any injuries.

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