Summer Heat Sparks Chemical Fire

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND COUNTY - The West Texas summer heat turned into a deadly fire starter on Friday.

Chemplex chemical yard in Midland County was thrown into chaos just before three in the afternoon, when a nearly 30,000 lb. container holding ammonium persulfate suddenly burst into flames.

"These 100-degree temperatures and if there's a little bit of moisture and they came in contact with that moisture, it would have caused it to oxidize and catch on fire," Midland Fire Marshal, Jeff Meiner, said.

Soon another container caught fire, threatening three more bigger containers holding more dangerous chemicals like sodium persulfate.

All workers were evacuated and a quarter-mile ring around the yard was shut down with toxic smoke leaking into the air.

"The smoke from this fire is toxic," Meiner said. "It does create some chemicals. You do not want to be in the smoke."

Firefighters did get some help from Mother Nature with wind blowing the toxic smoke over to a vacant field next to the chemical yard, so that no neighboring businesses had to be evacuated.

But the smoke did come close.

"A loud popping noise. There was a lot of white smoke, initially, and eventually it started getting darker and darker and more and more flames," Vice President of Testing Services for nearby Mechanical Equipment, Inc., Glenn Long, said.

Eventually, firefighters fought for nearly six hours before containing the blazes but lost four sets of bunker gear to the sulfuric acid.

Now parts of Chemplex's yard will be shut down but no one was injured and nearby businesses are chalking it up to a freak accident.

"I'm surprised that it happened this time and I'm sure, after this, they'll be a lot more careful," Long said. "I'm not worried about being next-door to Chemplex."