Washington Warehouse Fire Forces Evacuations

GRANDVIEW, Wash. (AP) -- Authorities evacuated homes and businesses near a burning warehouse full of farm chemicals that was sending contaminated smoke into the air Wednesday.

The fire at the Wilbur Ellis Co. warehouse started when a vehicle inside the building caught fire, and it spread to pesticides, a police dispatcher said. There were no reports of injuries.

Two exits to Grandview from Interstate 82 were closed. Authorities evacuated buildings within a half-mile of the warehouse, which is located on the northwest outskirts of Grandview, about 40 miles southeast of Yakima.

The fire sent a column of thick, black smoke hundreds of feet into the air, where it collided with a bank of fog and began to dissipate, said David Lorenz, wastewater superintendent for the city of Grandview, who was downtown when firefighters began responding to the blaze.

''It was really hard to tell how high it was going because of the fog,'' he said.

Students at area schools were kept inside and ventilation systems inside the school buildings were shut down due to the burning chemicals, which sent a sulphur-like smell into the air, said Rachel Ott, administrative secretary for the Grandview School District.

However, the district remained open and most students were released at normal times, she said. School officials kept some students who live near the warehouse at school, rather than send them home on buses, if their homes may have been evacuated, Ott said.

She could not say how many students remained at the schools. The district serves 3,000 students.

The roughly 6,000-square-foot warehouse stores agricultural chemicals and fertilizers, according to Ken Cowdry, manager of the company's safety, regulatory and environmental group in Yakima. About five people work at the warehouse.

Wilbur Ellis Co. is an international marketer and distributor of agricultural and industrial products. The company operates in about 16 states, Cowdry said.