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On Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, a four-alarm fire in Waxahachie, TX, destroyed the Magnablend Industries plant, which manufactured and packaged custom chemicals for a variety of uses, including agriculture feed supplements and oil field, water treatment, construction and industrial cleaning products.It took 120 career and volunteer firefighters from 11 departments more than four hours to control the fire, which investigators determined was caused by a chemical reaction during manufacturing. Concerns about public safety forced the evacuation of 700 to 1,000 people from an elementary school, an assisted living center, an apartment complex and several duplex homes.
The Type II building was 554 feet long and 192 feet wide. It was built about 30 years ago and used by a plastic-pipe manufacturer. A large addition was built 10 years ago and Magnablend purchased the facility about five years ago.
Extra units dispatched
The Waxahachie Fire Department received an automatic alarm from Magnablend at 1601 State Highway 287 Bypass at 10:40 A.M. The department usually sends one engine to an automatic alarm, but at the time of this alarm, employees at Navarro College, next to Magnablend, saw white smoke coming from the plant and reported it the fire department’s administration office. A box alarm consisting of two additional engines, a ladder truck and a battalion chief was added immediately.
Engines 3, 1 and 2 and Ladder 3, a 105-foot aerial ladder, responded under the command of Battalion Chief John Rodgers along with 12 firefighters. Fire Chief David Hudgins, Assistant Fire Chief Randall Potter, Fire Marshal Dennis Crecelius and Battalion Chief Gary Myers also responded.
First-due Engine 3 reported heavy smoke visible while leaving its station a half-mile away. While enroute, Hudgins saw the smoke and requested a second alarm and two mutual aid engines. (In Waxahachie, a second alarm is a callback of off-duty firefighters who live within 10 miles of the city.) Red Oak Fire Department Chief Eric Thompson and Engine 183 and Midlothian Fire Department Deputy Chief Dale McCaskill and Engine 2 responded with eight firefighters.
As Hudgins approached the Magna-blend facility, all of the smoke coming from the structure was white and cloud-like. Hudgins said his first impression was that a tank was overheating or having a chemical reaction. As he passed the back of the property, he saw a cherry-red spot about 10 by 10 feet on the metal building’s back wall. Hudgins drove around the building to observe all of its sides. When he returned to the back of the building, fire was coming out from the spot he had seen earlier.
Hudgins established a command post in the plant’s northwest parking area. Rodgers was assigned to the C Division and Potter to the B Division. Engine 2 was directed to connect to the sprinkler system in front of the building and was supplied by a 100-foot, five-inch line. Two 100-foot, 2½-inch lines were connected to the building’s fire department connection. Engine 1 laid a 900-foot, five-inch line to the rear of the building to supply Engine 3, which was setting up for deck gun operations. Engine 1 Captain Don Alexander was advised to establish an unmanned ground monitor just inside an open doorway to cut off the fire from the main building. The monitor was positioned 20 feet inside the building and supplied by 250 feet of three-inch hose from Engine 1, but was not placed into operation due to a closed fire door. Alexander stated there was no fire there at that time. Ladder 3 was positioned at the rear of the building behind Engine 3 and set up for aerial master stream operations. Hudgins was advised that a lack of water prohibited both aerial and deck gun operations. The deck gun on Engine 3 was shut down.
The smoke was changing from white to dark black and blowing close to the ground on the north side of the complex, where the building’s sprinkler connection was located. Engine 2 was delayed in connecting to the sprinkler system because the crew needed to don self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Hudgins decided no handlines would be advanced inside the structure due to the heavy volume of fire.