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Houston-area chemical fire burns for third straight day

By
Nicholas Sakelaris and Danielle Haynes
The Deer Park fire has sent a plume of smoke stretching over much of the Houston area. Photo courtesy of the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office
The Deer Park fire has sent a plume of smoke stretching over much of the Houston area. Photo courtesy of the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office

March 19 (UPI) -- Houston-area fire officials said Tuesday that they no longer have a definitive timetable for how long a three-day chemical fire will burn before crews can put it out.

The fire at the International Terminals Company in Deer Park started Sunday morning and has burned through multiple 80,000-barrel tanks containing gasoline and other chemicals, authorities said. By late Monday, the fire had been contained but not extinguished.

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"We have made some headway in that three of our tanks are still on fire and three are intermittent fires," ITC spokesperson Alice Richardson said. "They flare up, then go down. We make strong headway and we are putting a foam blanket on top."

Officials initially believed the fire would be put out Wednesday, but officials are no longer sure of that date.

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"Fuel has burned off," Harris County Fire Marshal's Chief Laurie Christensen said during a Tuesday news conference. "That may be what has to happen. What I can't tell you is how long that will take."

No injuries have been reported and air tests indicate there's no serious health risk. Officials said the smoke has risen 4,000 feet during the day but could fall lower at night, though not enough to impact health.

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"Right now, what we're seeing is no elevated levels [of pollutants] because the plume is high enough that it's not affecting us here close to the ground," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

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Dry, clear conditions allow the particles to dissipate before they reach the ground.

"I don't expect a large number of people to have their health affected unless circumstances change or the fire worsens," said Arch Carson, a medical toxicologist at the School of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The International Terminals Company is owned by Mitsui & Co, a Japanese firm once owned by Toyota and Toshiba. About 300 people work at the facility.

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Not everyone feels safe with the chemical fire {link:burning so close to them.

"By looking behind me, you can tell this is not normal, this is not fine," said Corey Williams, policy and research director for Air Alliance Houston. "The only thing preventing this from being a major catastrophe is favorable weather conditions."

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