Hundreds Evacuated After Fire at Fertilizer Storage Facility

A large fire at a fertilizer storage facility in downtown Athens is being allowed to burn itself out Friday morning.

Fire Chief John McQueary said the smoldering fire Friday morning has been contained, but an evacuation ordered early Thursday evening in the town of about 13,000 remained in effect.

McQueary said about a four to five-block area has been cordoned off. Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said about 300 to 350 people have been affected.

The fire broke out at the East Texas Ag Supply lot at about 6 p.m. Thursday. Police cordoned off a five-block radius near Larkin Street and North Pinkerton Street, where the lot is located. As of 7:30 p.m., however, aerial video showed that where there had been a 60-foot column of flames, there was now little more than a smoking ruin framed by charred walls.

NBC 5 has confirmed this was not an explosion and no injuries have been reported.

The mayor of Athens, Jerry Don Vaught, said about 300 to 350 residents have been displaced.

"Our main priority is safety and security of our citizens and this is what I'm very proud of our first responders having taken care of," Vaught said.

"They go through a lot of training especially after what happened in West," Vaught said. "There was a lot of communities that did lots of training to prepare for something like this."

Two shelters have been opened for displaced residents — one at 915 S. Palestine Street and another at First United Methodist Church located at 225 Lovers Lane.

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality will have to test air quality before residents can return home.

"The building has been around for over 50 years," Vaught said. "It has always been a fertilizer storage building and till this, nothing has ever happened there."

The cause of the fire is unknown. Authorities expect to provide an update about the fire at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Fertilizer fires have been of concern in Texas since an April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion killed 15, injured about 200 others and devastated the Central Texas town of West.

Athens, a town of about 13,000 residents, is about 70 miles southeast of Dallas.

NBC 5's Bianca Castro contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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