'Knock on wood': ITC says fire is under control

By Aaron Barker - Senior Digital Editor
KPRC2

A fire reignited at the ITC tank farm in Deer Park on March 22, 2019

DEER PARK, Texas - A fire reignited Friday at a chemical facility in Deer Park where a previous blaze burned for nearly four days earlier this week.

Thick smoke could be seen rising from the Intercontinental Terminals Co. facility at the corner of Independence Parkway and Tidal Road. 

Video from SKY2 showed a fire burning not only in the 15-tank yard, but also along a drainage ditch leading away from the yard. The new blaze appeared to be under control within about an hour.

PHOTOS: Fire reignites at ITC facility

Officials said a dike wall that surrounds the yard was breached Friday afternoon, and a shelter-in-place order was issued for surrounding industrial facilities and the San Jacinto historic site.

Authorities closed traffic to a section of the Houston Ship Channel between Tuckers Bayou and Ship Channel Light 116.

The Beltway 8 Ship Channel Bridge was closed for a short period of time Friday afternoon while the fire was burning, but has been reopened.

VIDEO: Deer Park fire smoke plume seen on radar

The shelter-in-place was not issued for residents of Deer Park, and officials repeated that after the fire reignited.

The breach and fire came after ITC officials said they had begun pumping out pygas that remained in tank 80-7. They warned that the pumping operation could upset the foam blanket that is keeping vapors contained, which could release more vapors.

It was not immediately clear which tanks were burning Friday afternoon, but ITC officials said in a statement that the tanks are located on the west side of the yard. Officials at the La Porte Office of Emergency Management said that two tanks were on fire.

The fire started Sunday morning and was declared extinguished by Wednesday morning. There was a brief flareup on Wednesday evening before crews were able to extinguish the blaze again. On Thursday, a release of benzene prompted a shelter-in-place for Deer Park and Gelena Park.

The Chemical Safety Board is conducting an investigation.

"Once we get the all clear that it’s safe to go on there, they’ll start to take a look around, talk to people, do what we do. We take photographic evidence, we talk to people, we gather documents and generally begin the process of the field phase of our investigation," a spokeswoman said.

"When we do an investigation of an incident like this, we’re looking to understand all of the facts and conditions that lead to the incident. So, we’re there technical issues? Were there training issues? Were there management issues? How was the site being operated?," she said.

The Houston Independent School District said all campuses on the east side have canceled activities for the weekend.

HISD said, "With reports of the Deer Park industrial fire re-igniting this afternoon, all on-campus activities for east area HISD campuses this weekend have been cancelled.  Also, sporting events have been rescheduled at alternate locations."

More shelter-in-place orders possible

Deer Park Mayor Jerry Mouton Jr. said Friday morning that more shelter-in-place orders are possible after pumping at one of the tanks damaged by the fire.

Alice Richardson, spokeswoman for ITC, said Friday morning that the temperature of the tanks continues to drop, and crews are working to pump out the material remaining in the 80-7 tank. She said the operation could upset the foam blanket that is keeping vapors contained. If that happens, a release of volatile organic compounds is possible, she said.

Brett Weber, another ITC representative, said that about 20,000 barrels of pygas remains in the tank and it could take up to 12 hours to complete the pumping operation. 

“Sometimes being safe, being methodical takes a little longer,” Weber said.

Weber said the foam layer protecting the tank will be added to as pumping continues in an effort to prevent a benzene release similar to what prompted a shelter-in-place order Thursday for Deer Park.

RELATED: What is benzene?

Mouton said that another shelter-in-place order is possible if there is another vapor release during the pumping. He said there is no scenario that has unfolded since the fire that would warrant an evacuation, but he said residents should follow their instincts.

VIDEO: Officials discuss latest air quality levels

“Everything that can be done to ensure public safety is being done,” Mouton said.

Adam Adams, the Environmental Protection Agency incident commander, said that the only time benzene was detected since monitoring began Sunday was on Thursday. He said those levels were between 1.5 and 1.8 parts per million.

RELATED: How to check air quality in your area

Adams said that booms have been placed in multiple locations around the facility in an effort to contain any spill of fuel products. 

Mouton said that tests are being conducted on the town’s water, but it takes several days to get the results of those tests.

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