Officials look into hazardous materials in Houston fire


HOUSTON (AP) — A large blaze at a warehouse complex in Houston on Thursday caused explosions, prompted fears that hazardous materials had been released in 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 Custom Packing and Filling Co. in the Spring Branch section of west Houston. About 200 firefighters battled the fire at its height, but by Thursday afternoon, the focus was extinguishing hot spots.

Authorities have not said what they believe started the fire, which involved at least three structures.

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.

Telephone and email messages to the company from The Associated Press drew no response Thursday.

An alert ordering people in nearby homes and businesses to stay inside, close all windows and shut off air conditioning was lifted about 2 p.m. Fire officials also are warning the public to avoid water runoff in areas near the fire until environmental officials determine no hazard existed, according to a fire department statement.

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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Associated Press writer Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.

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