JUDSONIA, Ark. (AP) - Firefighters, wearing air packs, worked
Friday to put out a fire at a plastics plant that sent toxic fumes
into the air and forced about 150 to 250 people from their homes.
No injuries were reported.
The blaze broke out about 5 p.m. Thursday at the Mid-South
Plastics plant in Judsonia and a foam tanker from the Little Rock
Air Force Base arrived around midnight to control it.
Hot spots remained early Friday morning, but emergency workers
planned to keep a close watch on the building until they were sure
the fire would not flare up.
Earl Bogan, coordinator for the White County Office of Emergency
Management, said residents most likely could return to their homes
after daylight Friday.
White County Sheriff Pat Garrett said the cause of the blaze was
unknown. The plant, which employs about a dozen people, recycles
discarded plastic PVC pipe.
Garrett said residents within a three-mile radius of the plant,
at the intersection of Arkansas 367 and 13, were urged to leave.
Authorities also diverted traffic in the area.
Thick, black smoke billowed into the air, but firefighters who
were the first to respond did not have the necessary equipment to
put out the blaze. Bogan said officials were concerned the fire was
releasing hydrochloric acid gas into the air.
Shelters were set up at the Judsonia Community Center and
elsewhere for residents.
Larry Homsley, a former truck driver for the plant and friend of
the owner, Greg Bell, watched the fire Thursday night from a
parking lot.
"It'll burn like old tires," Homsley said as he watched the
flames. "It'll be a long time getting that out. The flash point on
some of that plastic is 1,500, 1,800 degrees. When it catches, it
won't go out easily."
Officials said the fire would have to be smothered or it could
burn for two or three days.
Air pollution was not the only concern.
A city crew was called in to disconnect a drainage culvert that
runs into the Little Red River, and a dike was constructed across
the street to catch the runoff from the fire trucks.
Bill Haynie, owner of Haynie Construction Company, was asked to
help because of his expertise in dealing with hazardous materials.
Haynie operated the machinery that pulled the front off the
building to give fire crews with foam easier access.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)