Hazardous materials released in Houston warehouse fire


HOUSTON (AP) — Nearly 200 firefighters battled a large blaze Thursday at a warehouse complex in Houston that officials said released hazardous materials into the air and forced the evacuation of hundreds of students from a nearby elementary school.

The four-alarm fire, which generated towering plumes of black smoke, began about 10 a.m. at a custom packing and filling company in west Houston. The blaze caused various explosions that rattled the industrial area and surrounding neighborhoods.

Houston Fire Department spokesman Ruy Lozano says investigators are waiting to speak with the property owners so they can help identify the products that burned, but officials think pesticides might have been involved. Lozano also mentioned that another product was a petroleum-based solvent.

“At this time, we have no reason to believe that there’s been a direct threat to any homes and there’s been no reported injuries. So we’re very fortunate,” Lozano said.

An alert ordering people in nearby homes and businesses to stay inside, close all windows and shut off air conditioning remained in place Thursday afternoon, said Michael Walter, a spokesman for Houston’s Office of Emergency Management.

Firefighters were focused on putting out hot spots after the blaze had been brought under control.

At least three structures were involved in the blaze, Lozano said. Authorities have not said what they believe started the fire, nor have they named the warehouse or its owner.

About 650 students and 80 staff members at a nearby elementary school were taken by bus to an indoor arena located about seven miles away.

“Right next to (the fire) was Spring Branch Elementary and we needed to get those kiddos out,” said Chuck Brawner, police chief with the Spring Branch school district. Brawner said the elementary school was the only school in that area.

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Online:

Video of the fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9G2SfdFr5A

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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