Blaze erupts at Texas chemical plant (VIDEOS)

A local sheriff said police and fire crews responded to reports of an explosion at the facility.

At least eight workers were hospitalized after a fire broke out at a Shell chemical plant in Texas on Friday, sending a towering column of black smoke into the sky. Officials say they are now monitoring the air for toxic byproducts.

First responders were called to the Shell petrochemical facility in the Houston suburb of Deer Park just after 3pm local time, the company said in a statement, noting that while there were no injuries in the fire, a number of contractors were “exposed to product” and sought out treatment as a “precaution.”

Shell did not specify what chemicals the workers may have come into contact with, but noted that “cracked heavy gas oil, cracked light gas oil and gasoline” ignited in the fire.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he initially received “preliminary reports of some sort of explosion,” but later stated there was no blast. However, footage captured by a local TV station shows a large fireball rising from the plant after fire crews believed the flames were extinguished. Officials said the reignition was “contained within approximately 30 seconds” and that such flare-ups are to be expected.

Firefighters could be seen battling the inferno in footage making the rounds on social media, with some clips also showing a massive plume of smoke billowing into the sky.

The Houston branch of the National Weather Service later noted that the smoke was visible on radar, and said one of its satellites was able to detect the fire itself from space.

Mexico’s state-run petroleum firm Pemex operates a refinery near the Shell plant, but the company said the fire did not reach its facility, rebutting early reports which misstated the location of the blaze.

While the Shell site is located less than half a mile away from Deer Park High School, officials did not issue a shelter-in-place order for residents. The local school district said that decision was made “because the wind is blowing away from our schools,” though the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality nonetheless stated it would monitor the air in the coming days to ensure no hazardous chemicals were released during the fire.

Following a multi-agency response, the fire was fully extinguished around four hours after it was first reported, with all employees at the plant accounted for, according to Shell. County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said the cause of the incident is not yet known, but added that fire officials would launch an investigation.

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