SHEPHERD, Texas (KIAH) — A massive fire at a chemical plant in rural Texas on Wednesday sent a plume of black smoke into the sky as officials closed down a local highway and ordered residents to take shelter.
Multiple explosions were reported in Shepherd, Texas, starting with one at a chemical plant on FM 1127 Wednesday morning, according to the Montgomery County Police Reporter.
Nineteen employees were at the plant, identified as Sound Resource Solutions, at the time of the explosion. Reports initially said several were injured, but authorities have clarified that just one employee experienced minor burns and was taken to a local hospital.
Sound Resource Solutions recycles and repackages various chemicals. The owner of the plant said the explosion was caused by an accident involving a forklift, and was under investigation.
San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said initial reports indicated the chemicals involved in the fire were flammable liquids, including possibly diesel and turpentine.
Company President Geoff Hartfield said he’s grateful all of his employees are safe. He said that the employee who was injured is “doing good” and should be back with his family by Wednesday evening.
“I’m not worried about the business. All my people went home. That’s what I care about,” Harfield said.
The fire was contained by Wednesday afternoon, said San Jacinto County Emergency Management coordinator Emmitt Eldridge. Fire crews had worked with two ladder trucks to put out the fire with foam.
Still, the San Jacinto County Office of Emergency Management cautioned everyone within a one-mile radius of the plant to shelter in place and turn off all HVAC systems. Those warnings were lifted hours later.
The solvents produced in the factory are used to make glue and paint remover, the Polk County Office of Emergency Management said in a statement. The agency warned that chemicals from the plant are toxic and can cause eye and skin irritation.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would continue to monitor the air through Wednesday evening and would begin working with the chemical plant’s owner on cleaning up the site, said agency spokesperson Ryan Vise.
Smoke was drifting northward as winds continued to blow from the south throughout the day. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office shared on Facebook that the plume could head toward the Livingston area.
U.S. Highway 59 remained closed in both directions Wednesday afternoon between Shepherd and Livingston. It was expected to reopen sometime Wednesday evening, officials said.
According to the San Jacinto County Office of Emergency Management, all children and employees of Wildwood Academy, a nearby private school for children ages 5 to 12, were evacuated safely to the Shepherd ISD administration building. All 31 students were reunited with their parents, authorities said.
As for Shepherd ISD itself, the district said all students were safe and did not have to shelter in place due to the wind direction. Parents were able to pick children up from school if they so desired.
Harfield said the company would cooperate with state and local environmental regulators and ”we’ll make sure that any remediation work that needs to be done is going to be done in the right way so that there’s no effect on the community that we’ve known for 14 years.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.