A look back at the worst industrial fires and explosions in Houston’s history
HOUSTON – Houston is no stranger to impactful industrial fires, many that have claimed dozens and dozens of lives over the years.
The Friday blast at a company in Spring Branch that killed two and injured at least 20 people, is another reminder of the dangers that exist.
Here’s a look at some of the most significant industrial fires and explosions to occur in the area’s history.
1. Texas City disaster
When it happened: April 16, 1947
Where it happened: Port of Texas City, Texas at Galveston Bay.
What happened: A fire started on the SS Grandcamp (docked in the port) and detonated 2,200 tons of ammonium nitrate. This created more fires and explosions in other ships and oil-storage facilities. In total, 581 people died. Only one member of the Texas City Fire Department survived.
2. Texas City Refinery explosion
When it happened: March 23, 2005
Where it happened: BP's Texas City refinery in Texas City.
What happened: A hydrocarbon vapor cloud ignited and exploded killing 15 people and injuring 180 others.
About the refinery: It was the second-largest oil refinery in the state, and the third-largest in the United States.
Who was to blame? Technical and organizational failings at BP, according to reports filed after.
3. Phillips Disaster
When it happened: October 23, 1989
Where it happened: Phillips Petroleum Company's Houston Chemical Complex facility near the Houston Ship Channel in Pasadena.
What happened: 23 employees died and 314 were hurt.
The impact: It took 10 hours to bring the fire under control.
Loss of facilities: Two polyethylene production plants that were located nearby were destroyed as was an administration building about a half a mile away. The explosion was equal to an earthquake registered 3.5 on the Richter scale.
4. ITC fire
When it happened: March 17, 2019
Where it happened: Deer Park
What happened: The fire spread throughout the facility, engulfing nine of the 15 tanks in the area. After it was put out, the fire reignited, sending a fireball into the air. Crews were able to put the fire out quickly.
Issues went on for days: Five days after the fire was initially put out and crews had started pumping the chemicals out of the remaining tanks, benzene – a known carcinogen – was detected in the air, prompting more school closures and another shelter-in-place order. On the sixth day after the initial fire, the facility suffered a break in a dike wall near the incinerated tanks. Hours after the break, two tanks and chemical runoff in a ditch caught fire, sending yet another plume of smoke over the Deer Park area. About a week after the initial fire, reports of several toxins found in the water near ITC prompted officials to close the ship channel.
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