Investigators still not cleared to enter ITC fire site

By Cory McCord - Digital News Editor
KPRC2

DEER PARK, Texas - Harris County officials continue to monitor events related to a fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company facility in Deer Park.

On Wednesday, they offered some updates on the progress being made.

Officials said their priority remains on the health and safety of the community.

Investigators are still waiting for clearance to enter the tank farm.

READ: How it happened: A timeline of the Deer Park chemical fire

The health risk remains low for the public, but monitoring for long-term impact remains, according to Harris County Public Health.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office continues investigating the fire and officials said ITC employee interviews are being conducted.

READ: How do firefighters train to fight massive chemical fires?

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.

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. 

After the initial fire started, schools closed and residents were ordered to shelter in place. While the order was lifted and classes resumed March 19, the break was short-lived.

READ: ITC Deer Park fire: Here are the resources you need

On March 21, after the fire had been 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.

Though the shelter-in-place order was lifted, schools remained closed for the rest of the week.

On March 22, just as ITC officials were starting to seem hopeful the situation was going in the right direction, the facility suffered a break in a dike wall near the incinerated tanks.

READ: How to check air quality numbers in your area

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.

On March 23, reports of several toxins found in the water near ITC prompted officials to close the ship channel.

Samples of soil and water in affected areas continues and a Harris County contractor (Turnstone) will conduct air monitoring throughout the cleanup process, according to officials.

ITC officials said crews continue to monitor air quality by land and air to report any elevated volatile organic compounds around the incident site. Officials also said fire suppression activities continue to prevent re-ignition and suppress vapors.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality continue to direct the public to their new interactive map on the TCEQ’s website for updates on the ITC response.

The U.S. Coast Guard is actively booming and skimming the impacted areas. The Houston Ship Channel is now open for daylight vessel traffic only.

Harris County officials said the following parks remain closed as a precaution:

  • Bay Area Park in Houston
  • Clear Lake Park in Seabrook
  • Sylvan Beach Park in La Porte
  • Juan Seguin in La Porte
  • Rio Villa Nature Trail in Houston
  • Meadowbrook Park in Channelview
  • River Terrace Park in Channelview
  • Michael Moncrief Park in Channelview

La Porte officials said Seabreeze Park and Klein Retreat will remain closed until further notice. The Lynchburg Ferry remains closed to the public until further notice. The Washburn Tunnel will remain closed for maintenance until April 8. The San Jacinto Museum has canceled the 2019 San Jacinto Day Festival and Battle Reenactment scheduled for April 13.

Here are updates from the tank farm:

  • Nine tanks secured
  • Nine tanks targeted for removal
  • Three tanks with a base oil product pose a low risk to the community

Water response:

  • 118,300 feet boom deployed
  • Eastern-leading edge: Old River
  • Western-leading edge: Tucker Bayou
  • 61,807 barrels product recovered from the water
  • 97,239 barrels product recovered from a tank farm

Wildlife impact:

  • 10 birds dead
  • 5 opossums dead
  • 3 red-eared slider turtles dead
  • 13 fish dead

Check out the timeline of events below:

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