Aftermath in Deer Park: How chemical fire will impact community

By Brandon Walker - Reporter

DEER PARK, Texas - Pinkie Tinker grew stir-crazy as the morning progressed Thursday, unable to go outside until officials lifted a shelter-in-place order. That happened before noon, giving Tinker the green light to use her green thumb: Straight to her garden, she went. 

"We got tired of being inside," Tinker said. 

Throughout Deer Park on Thursday, closed signs sat in the windows of shuttered storefronts. Rick Staley, owner of Staley's Tax Service, opened his doors as soon as he could. 

The phone rang most of the afternoon, with customers trying to reschedule appointments to file their taxes. 

"Normally, all the seats would be full, people waiting and everything," Staley said. 

Staley has been in business since 1968. He knows Deer Park well -- a community powered by oil and gas. 

"We get a lot for the economy from it, and it puts a lot of food on our tables," Staley said. 

Still, the fire at ITC's Deer Park facility was a fright. Sights of an empty Highway 225, paired with shuttered storefronts along Center Street, tell a tale of what a shelter-in-place means for a community like Deer Park.  

"There's more than one industry out there. They're side by side. You always worry about the fact that, you know, if one goes, they all go," Staley said. 

"It is part of the economy around here," said Jaime Escareno, who lives in bordering Pasadena, where there was not a shelter-in-place. 

Escareno spent the day tending to repairs around his home. His neighbors seemed to hedge their bets: Streets were empty, for the most part and schools were closed. 

"It feels a little ghostly, but I think people are just a little cautious. There's a lot of children around here, schools all over the area," Escareno said. 

Also within that area are those who work at plants like ITC Deer Park, not to mention the scores who battled the inferno.

"I really have a lot of trust in them because they are community people just like us," said Staley. 

With the shelter-in-place lifted, it was back to business in Deer Park, which is good news, considering Staley's phone keeps ringing. 

"We have appointments for tonight, and we've called them all and reassured them we're back in and we're going to try to get them done as soon as possible," Staley said with a chuckle.

Harris County Public Health is setting up mobile clinics to conduct health screenings. The next (and last one) is at the Jimmy Burke Activity center this afternoon from 2-7 p.m. Friday. 

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