Fire chief: Ample ventilation key to no explosion in Athens fire
POSTED: Friday, May 30, 2014 - 7:23pm
UPDATED: Sunday, June 1, 2014 - 5:15pm
Athens, Texas (KETK) — Authorities announced at a Friday morning press conference the Athens fertilizer storage facility fire will be treated as a crime scene. Meanwhile, city officials will move forward with local activities at another location after a slight delay.
According to staff at the East Texas Arboretum, the Fiddlers Reunion "Jam Session" has been moved to the East Texas Arboretum off of Highway 175. Musicians will start playing at 6 p.m. Festivities will return to the square at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
According to Athens Fire Chief John McQueary, the owner of the facility left at around 5:15 p.m. and about 30 minutes later, a large fire broke out at the East Texas Ag Supply fertilizer facility, located in the 100 Block of Larkin Street.
The Athens Fire Department ordered an initial evacuation of three blocks and set up a command post. The radius was then expanded to five blocks and later upped to 15. As of Friday morning, the evacuation area had been decreased to five blocks, and to one block Friday afternoon. This is due to smoke still in the area. Several agencies are working together to attempt to demolish the facility and rid the area of smoke.
According to Fire Chief John McQueary, the evacuations were put in place because the "magnitude of the fire deemed it a necessity." The chief also said the West explosion helped the facility avoid a worse tragedy by addressing issues following the blast in Central Texas. Firefighters, whom were trained on how to deal with ammonium nitrate following the West blast, avoided a larger catastrophe by letting the 70 tons of ammonium nitrate burn itself out and avoided dousing the flames with water. McQueary said the facility also housed 100,000 pounds of pot ash.
Forty-seven residents were sheltered at the Cain Center in last night's incident. Officials expect people can return home Friday afternoon, but the situation is still being assessed.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has determined there is little to no toxicity in the atmosphere, but will continue to monitor the situation, said McQueary.
No cause has been determined at this time.
In a 2 p.m. press conference, McQueary said the fire was labeled as "suspicious" after more than half the building was on fire with flames shooting through the roof. To label a fire of this nature suspicious is common protocol.
McQueary also stated investigators believe an ample amount of ventilation assisted in keeping the fire from exploding, however, they are still looking into all the mitigating factors.
Officials are asking the public to turn over any media of the fire they may possess to help the investigation.
Rounders Pizza and Ken's Pizza have teamed up to provide free buffet meals to all first responders. Also, First State Bank has offered its parking lot Friday for the Farmer's Market. The regular grounds has been occupied by the command center setup by fire officials.
All schools are still in session.