Chemical fire erupts at Victoria petroleum company (video)

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Sept. 9, 2013 at 4:09 a.m.
Updated Sept. 10, 2013 at 4:10 a.m.

No one was injured in a chemical fire at a petroleum company Monday.

Firefighters were sent to Drill Green Petroleum Products in the 6000 block of U.S. Highway 59 North at 1:30 p.m. When they arrived, they discovered a forklift and one or two, 300- to 400-gallon containers of a toxic chemical called toluene on fire. Other chemicals could have also burned, said Tracy Fox, assistant fire chief.

Fox said because of strong winds, Torres Elementary, about five miles away, was notified of the danger, but given the all clear in about 30 minutes, allowing parents to pick up their children at 3:30 p.m. as normal.

Victoria ISD Communications Director Diane Boyett said if the fire had been closer, the school would have sheltered in place. Shelter in place, to VISD, means students are not only brought inside, but also the air conditioning is turned off, and all doors and windows are sealed with duct tape or plastic.

"The students were safe and never in any danger," Boyett said.

The district sent letters home with Torres Elementary students and planned also to call parents to explain what happened.

"The educational day continued without disruption," Torres Elementary Principal Sherry Gorsuch wrote in the letter.

Fire officials also ordered a preliminary evacuation of 1,000 feet. That area does not include residences, Fox said, so Drill Green's and its neighbor Allis-Chalmers' employees were asked to leave for the day.

The fire was extinguished in about one hour.

The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality was notified, and Drill Green dispatched a pollution control/cleanup company so city of Victoria Fire Marshal Tom Leglar can get closer to the scene tomorrow to investigate the cause of the fire.

Residents should not be concerned about air quality, Fox said.

Drill Green's operating manager declined to comment.

Toluene is a mixture added to gasoline to improve octane ratings. It also is used as a solvent in paints, synthetic fragrances and adhesives. When a human is acutely exposed to low or moderate levels of toluene by inhalation, symptoms include fatigue, sleepiness, headaches and nausea, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.



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