HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – For the first time in 80 years, the annual San Jacinto Day Celebration at the San Jacinto Monument has been canceled due to safety concerns after a fire at the ITC facility in Deer Park.
As the cleanup continues, worries about chemical contamination have forced the closure of two of the state’s most popular tourist attractions during what is usually their busiest time of year.
The celebration has been held April 21 every year since the monument was completed in 1939 to commemorate the battle of San Jacinto that won Texas its independence in 1836.
It’s grown to include a weekendlong festival and battle re-enactment, but not this year.
The fire and chemical release at the ITC plant put the monument, as well as the Battleship Texas moored nearby, in the danger zone. The road leading to both remains closed.
The fire started Sunday, March 17, and spread throughout the facility, engulfing nine of the 15 tanks in the area. It was put out around 2 a.m. Wednesday, March 20.
Nearly 12 hours later, the fire reignited, sending a fireball into the air. Crews were able to put the fire out quickly, but the incident was far from over.
“It's likely the battleground will still not be open to the public on April 21 because of the lingering effects of the ITC fire,” said Nancy Burch, who sits on the San Jacinto Monument Committee.
The problem is that as the cleanup continues at ITC, more benzine could be released from the plant.
“At the last check, the benzine hot spots were moving to different areas with the wind,” said Larry Spasic, president of the San Jacinto Monument Museum. “We’re being abundantly cautious. We don’t want anyone to be in a situation where they would be in danger any way whatsoever.”
The spring break tourist season is usually a busy one for both the monument and the Battleship Texas moored nearby.
But because of the fire, both have been closed since March 17.
Spasic estimates the museum has lost at least $100,000 in revenue so far.
“Our visitation is largely our budget. Many people do not know we’re (a) private nonprofit, educational association and we do not receive state or federal funding. So the visitation we miss is lost to our budget,” Spasic said.
It’s a similar story for the battleship. The Texas Parks and Wildlife department estimates the loss in admission fees at $199,000.
Every day the attractions are closed means more lost revenue, and it’s still not clear when the battleship and monument will reopen.
To try to make up some of the deficit, the museum will hold its annual fundraiser, the San Jacinto Day Dinner, on Tuesday at the Houston Country Club. Both the museum and battleship accept donations online.