Firefighters battled a large fire at chemical and plastics distribution facility in Garland on Friday.
The fire raged through containers inside a covered loading rack at the Nexeo Solutions facility in the 3000 block of Wood Lane on Friday afternoon. The fire was out by Friday night, and fire crews remained at the plant to monitor hot spots throughout the night.
The fire contained mostly methanol, a highly flammable liquid used to produce materials such as plastics, paints and fuels for cars. It can be poisonous if ingested.
A high-powered solvent, toluene, was also in the fire. It can be found in many items, including nail polish and glue, but can be dangerous to your health at high levels.
Nexeo Solutions spokeswoman Christina Reynolds told NBC 5 that all employees escaped the fire without injury. She said the cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
The Environmental Protection Agency is checking air quality in the area. Garland fire crews said the initial EPA tests came back negative for any immediate danger. The first test results show normal to low levels of methanol in the area around the plant.
The agency tested the air from Garland to Dallas throughout the night.
The Garland Health Department is also tested the water and determined there was no threat to the public.
The fire, which was first reported at about 3:30 p.m., was contained to the loading rack, although adjacent containers emitted steam, presumably from heating or blistering paint.
Several explosions could be heard while the fire burned through containers.
"I though the whole plant exploded," witness Adam Lagerberg said. "I never seen anything this bad. It was bad."
Rusty Webb, who works nearby, was fewer than 200 yards away when the fire erupted.
"I was working there and heard the explosion," he said. "Actually, you could feel it in your chest. As soon as it did that, I grabbed the cellphone and called 911."
Chopper 5 was the first helicopter over the fire with aerial pictures. Chopper 5 photojournalist Ames Meyer and a pilot were hovering above the fire when she felt an explosion.
"We were 1,000 feet in the air, and when we felt a boom that big, it was just like a muffled sound," Myers said. "We both looked at each other like, 'What was that?' You know, your first reaction is, do you think it's the helicopter? No, it's that big fire on the ground."
At 4:40 p.m., firefighters began spraying water to try to cool tanks near the fire. Garland Fire Capt. Merrill Balancier said there is concern about spraying water onto the containers that are on fire because it is believed the chemicals do not mix well with water. But firefighters later called for sand trucks to be brought in because the use of water was spreading the fire.
Firefighters allowed the fire to burn out and kept it from spreading. To the west, tanker cars on rail lines contained chemicals that posed a significant risk of exploding, Balancier said.
Nearby businesses within one-quarter of a mile of the facility were evacuated as a precaution. The evacuation was lifted by Saturday morning.
Residential neighborhoods are as close as a half-mile to the east across South Shiloh Road, but were not evacuated, Garland Fire Chief Todd Peele said. However, officials asked people to avoid the area while the fire was burning.
The National Weather Service said the plume of smoke blew from east to west and rose to 7,000 feet. NBC 5 Chief Meteorologist David Finfrock said wind speeds were about 5 mph during the fire.
A Nexeo driver told NBC 5 he was thankful that the wind was blowing to the west. If it were blowing to the east, the tanks adjacent to the fire would be at much greater risk of exploding, he said.
A sign in front of the complex indicates that the facility is owned by Ashland, a world-wide chemical company. NBC 5 has learned that Ashland sold the facility in 2011 to Nexeo Solutions, a Texas company based in the Houston area.
According to the United States Department of Labor, Nexeo Solutions has been cited $11,500 for improperly storing flammable liquids and organic peroxides in December 2011 at a facility in Tewksbury, Mass. NBC 5 has also learned a Nexeo Solutions facility in Willow Springs, Ill., caught fire in June.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says Nexeo currently has a satisfactory rating and has had no violations this year.
In 2011, the company received several notices of violations: three minor violations for training and inspections and a moderate notice of a violation for discharging hazardous waste into a water supply.
The notices do not mean a violation has occurred.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the Nexeo facility in Garland has not had any issues.
NBC 5's Kevin Cokely, Kristi Nelson, Ames Meyer, Tammy Mutasa, Ellen Goldberg, Scott Friedman, Eva Parks, Ken Kalthoff, Omar Villafranca, Amanda Guerra and Mark Schnyder contributed to this report.