WAXAHACHIE -- An electrical spark may have ignited the fire at a Waxahachie chemical plant Monday that forced the evacuation of a nearby elementary school, college and apartment complexes, a company's official said Tuesday.
Magnablend CEO Scott Pendery stressed that the investigation is ongoing and said it is still not known what may have produced the spark, why the fire spread so quickly and which chemical compounds may have been involved.
"We do not want to speculate as to the exact cause," he said at a news conference, adding that he hoped to have more information today or Thursday.
The fire broke out about 11 a.m. Monday at the plant, near Interstate 35E and U.S. 287. Firefighters arrived about two minutes later and found flames shooting from the doors of the plant's west bay, where liquid compounds are mixed.
Because the blaze had overrun the sprinkler system, firefighters could do little else but try to contain the fire to the section it started in. But when a storage tank burst, releasing streams of flammable liquids, the fire quickly spread.
Fire departments from surrounding communities, including Ennis, Midlothian, Red Oak and DeSoto, quickly responded.
"You could have doubled, tripled or quadrupled the number of firetrucks, and the results would still have been the same," Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins said. "I'm comfortable with our response."
Little health threat
Meanwhile, federal and state environmental officials monitoring the smoldering site Tuesday said that there appeared to be little threat to public health. Real-time air-quality readings have not shown unhealthful quantities or types of particles, said Nicolas Brescia, an official with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Runoff from fire hoses is being pumped into tanks and will be analyzed and disposed of. The soil below will be removed or reclaimed as needed, officials said.
"I'm confident that at the present time our community is safe," said Dr. Glenn Ledbetter, Ellis County's volunteer health official. "I'm confident that we're on the right track."
Officials with the EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said Magnablend has no history of noncompliance or enforcement actions. By law, Hudgins said, such plants must be inspected annually for fire code compliance, and any deficiencies are reported to local fire officials.
A Navarro College campus next to the plant was expected to reopen Tuesday for night classes -- except for the college's fire academy, which is closest to the fire site. Workers erected a temporary fence to keep students away from the plant.
About the company
Magnablend is a privately held Texas corporation specializing in custom chemical manufacturing, blending and packaging. It manufactures products based on customer specifications and develops new formulations.
The company has powder, liquid-blending and central facilities in Waxahachie, where it has been based since Pendery's parents founded it 33 years ago.
Pendery said Magnablend manufactures custom chemicals for a variety of industries, including oil and gas, agriculture, pet food and feed supplements, water treatment, construction and industrial cleaning. About 80 percent of the company's business is on the oil-and-gas side, he said.
"We've been a good steward, a good employer and a good neighbor," he said. "We'll learn from this and be a better company."
Also on Tuesday:
Pendery said the two workers who needed medical attention Monday were both home and doing fine. He said they weren't injured but rather suffered emotional distress and were referred for medical treatment as a precaution.
The Ennis Fire Department, which lost a ladder truck in the blaze, expects a replacement to be delivered in late January or early February, Capt. Jeff Aycock said. The replacement value of the lost truck is $1.4 million and was insured through the Texas Municipal League.
Two firefighters on the truck had a close call Monday when a river of flames began moving toward them as they worked to extend the ladder. The firefighters, who were in the bucket at the end of the ladder, needed about 40 seconds to bring the ladder back down and escape from the truck, Aycock said.
"It was a race against time," he said. "They had about six seconds to spare."
Patrick M. Walker,