On The Job Texas: Four-Alarm Fire Destroys Waxahachie Chemical Plant

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...


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At 11:30 A.M., conditions in the C Division continued to deteriorate. Waxahachie Engines 1 and 3 and Ladder 3 were ordered to evacuate their positions and report to the D Division, the only division able to attack the fire directly. Command created an operation division consisting of Rodgers and Thompson. The fire still could not be approached from the A Division because of heavy smoke and the structure could not be reached from the B Division because the fire had engulfed the outside storage area. Access to the C Division was limited by a drainage ditch full of unknown product.

Within five minutes, the fire started to flow into the drainage ditch east of the property, in front of the railcars and toward Navarro College Fire Academy buildings in the B/C Division. De Soto Quint 261 was assigned to the B/C Division and set up for aerial master stream operations on the south side of the fire academy building to cool the railcars and extinguish the fire in the drainage ditch. The Waxahachie Public Works Department was asked for backhoes and dump trucks of dirt to dam and dike the area.

The Dallas hazmat team arrived at the command post at 11:45 A.M. and was assigned to determine the contents of the railcars and take over containment operations. The team continually tested the runoff water for hazardous materials. The Lancaster Fire Department Decontamination Unit set up a decon tent in the far southeast corner on Navarro College property, upwind, but downstream of the fire.

The Ellis County Sheriff’s Office helicopter arrived at 12:20 P.M. and flew Thompson around the incident. Waxahachie Engine 4, a reserve engine manned by off-duty firefighters, and Forreston Engine 1 were assigned to the A/B Division. Engine 4 deployed a ground monitor and Engine 1 used a deck gun to cool railcars on the north end of the property.

After trains on the main line were stopped, the ground monitor from Engine 4 was moved atop the rail line to be more effective. The B/C Division knocked down the fire in the ditch and around the railcars. A ground monitor was deployed from Ovilla Engine 704 and De Soto’s quint was reassigned to the A/B Division inside the main gate to extinguish the smoldering fire in the east end of the building and tote-storage area. Off-duty firefighters brought in two Waxahachie brush trucks to extinguish grass fires. Command also requested De Soto’s command vehicle to the scene.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arrived at the command post about two hours into the fire. Several hours later, the EPA had its plane fly over and into the smoke plume to test the air. The TCEQ and the EPA also established ground air-monitoring stations in a 360-degree pattern around the fire. Cleanup operations started late in the afternoon with vacuum trucks collecting runoff water.

 

Under control

Hudgins declared the fire under control at 3 P.M. Command was terminated at 11:15 P.M., but the fire continued to smolder deep in the ruins of the building. Waxahachie firefighters remained on scene 24 hours a day until 5 P.M. on Friday, Oct. 7, to verify that the small spot fires did not ignite any chemicals on the property.

No firefighter or civilian injuries were reported from this incident. While Magnablend Industries’ loss was catastrophic, no adjacent business suffered any damage. The damage estimate exceeds $10 million. Ennis Tower 9, a 1988 Sutphen TS 100 aerial tower, was destroyed in the fire. The department expected delivery of a new 100-foot aerial ladder in February.

Ennis Chief David Hopkins said, “Training means a lot,” as it took only 30 seconds after firefighters were off the truck for the flames to engulf it. “The guys on the platform couldn’t see through the doors of the plant, but the captain did and had them come down. They thought they would have time to lift the outriggers and drive it out, but they didn’t.”

The Waxahachie Fire Department Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was caused by a chemical reaction during manufacturing involving a product used by water-treatment facilities. This product had been made at least 16 times in batches of 500 gallons or less, but this was the first time it was mixed using a 2,500-gallon batch. The product produced a hydrogen gas steam cloud that overwhelmed the ventilation system and was ignited by an electric motor or a light bulb breaking.

Cleanup operations were supervised by the EPA and TCEQ. Water used on the fire was transported off-site for disposal. Contaminated soil will be disposed of in a landfill. n