Houston Chemical Fires Rage on Until Fuel Burns Out

Houston Chemical Fires Rage on Until Fuel Burns Out
Recent petrochemical tank fires in Houston will likely burn for two more days or until the fuel runs out.

(Bloomberg) -- Petrochemical tank fires that covered the Houston skyline in thick, black smoke will likely burn for two more days or until the fuel runs out, first responders said.

Firefighters are in “defensive mode” as they seek to contain a blaze that spread to seven tanks storing liquids used to make gasoline in Deer Park, near the city’s shipping channel, said Ray Russell, a spokesman for Channel Industries Mutual Aid, a petrochemical emergency response organization.

First responders are confident that they can stop the blaze spreading beyond the affected 15-tank unit by using foam and water, he said. The facility is owned by Intercontinental Terminals Company, a division of Tokyo-based Mitsui & Co., and has a total of 242 storage tanks located near the Houston Ship Channel to the east of the city, one of the busiest ports along the Gulf Coast.

“At this time we are in a defensive mode,” Russell said at a press conference. “It is going to have to burn out in that tank or until we complete draining the tank.”

Residents have been urged to stay inside and nearby schools and highways were closed as fumes soared up into the sky causing a black haze across the city. However, local officials lifted a “Shelter in Place” order at 5:30 a.m. after air quality was found to be below “action levels.”

“You can really smell & taste it now,” real-estate agent Jon Gardella said on Twitter, referring to the black smog enveloping Houston on Monday morning.

Potential health effects of the smoke include coughing, difficulty breathing and irritation to eyes and throat, according to the One Breath Partnership, an organization that works to improve air quality.

Ships in the area at the time of the incident have been cleared out and they are currently not permitted to enter or depart the area, U.S. Coast Guard Watch Supervisor Alberto Hernandez said by phone Monday morning.

David Wascome, vice president of terminal operations at ITC, said there were seven tanks on fire, correcting an earlier press release which said eight had caught alight.

Prices for naphtha on the U.S. Gulf Coast rose 2.45 cents to $1.5002 a gallon Monday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Although the risk of explosion is minimal, we continue to take precautions to further reduce this possibility,” ITC said in a statement.

The tank farm occupies 265 acres on the Houston Ship Channel east of the city. It can store more than 13 million barrels of chemicals, petroleum, fuel oil and gases. It serves marine, train and trucking transport with five tanker berths and its own rail spur.

--With assistance from Mike Jeffers and Sheela Tobben.To contact the reporters on this story: Kevin Crowley in Houston at kcrowley1@bloomberg.net ;Jack Kaskey in Houston at jkaskey@bloomberg.net ;Barbara Powell in Houston at bpowell4@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Casey at scasey4@bloomberg.net Carlos Caminada, Steven Frank


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