City, county leaders say ITC has lead in Deer Park fire response

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

DEER PARK, Texas - Harris County and city of Houston officials reiterated their stance that it is the Intercontinental Terminal Company’s responsibility to utilize all resources to bring a raging tank fire in Deer Park under controlled.

City and county leaders added leaving ITC at the helm of firefighting efforts is the best course of action given company officials have the expertise and know their storage facility better than anyone.

READ: Fire continues raging at Deer Park chemical facility

“So the company is the lead on the response, this is a private facility fire,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

“Are you satisfied with the response from ITC thus far?” asked KPRC investigator Robert Arnold.

“I mean, right now what I can say is everybody is doing their absolute best,” said Hidalgo.

Both Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city and county are working alongside ITC on fighting the fire, which includes providing needed fire and testing equipment, as well as helping bolster sagging water pressure levels that temporarily led to the fire intensifies. Channel Industries Mutual Aid is also instrumental in extinguishing the flames. CIMA is the combined firefighting, rescue, medical and hazardous materials response resources of the petrochemical and refining companies in the area.

“We do expect ITC to utilize every available resource to contain and put out this fire,” said Turner. 

“But what is the threshold for deciding when that response is no longer adequate and who makes that decision?” asked Arnold.

“I think that situation is being carefully monitored,” said Turner.

This storage facility lies with County Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s precinct.

“I will tell you I am frustrated with ITC's response,” said Garcia. “As a beat cop, you know when to ask for backup, I think I would have asked for backup a long time ago.”

Garcia said he believes the company should have called in outside resources sooner before the flames spread to several tanks. Garcia said he has asked Hidalgo’s Office to research the legalities of a city or county entity assuming control of firefighting efforts. However, Garcia said he agrees that leaving ITC in charge of these efforts is the best plan at this time.

Hidalgo said in addition to city and county officials remaining on site at the fire, ITC has two employees stationed at the emergency operations center to help coordinate efforts. 

Both Hidalgo and Turner said so far all air quality tests are showing no signs of dangerous chemicals massing near the ground. Primarily because the winds are keeping the smoke plume at a high altitude.

“The plume height is way up there today, so we're talking above 4,000 feet, possibly could get up as high as 6,200 feet this afternoon,” said Jeff Linder, a meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District.

City and county leaders say they are ready to act if the winds shift, exactly what that entails depends on where the smoke goes. A National Weather Service meteorologist has joined the emergency operation efforts.

“We're not in a position to raise further alarm and we have to be responsible not to do that,” said Hidalgo.

Linder said part of the difficulty in fighting a fire like this is the flames are somewhat creating their own weather by way of shifting wind patterns at the fire site.

“This is acting a little bit like a wildfire would act in a serious situation say out in California or the West,” Linder said.

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