Grand Prairie

Massive Plastics Plant Fire Sends ‘Toxic Plume' Over North Texas

High-tension electricity wires are expected to collapse into the inferno, which could cause a domino effect of collapsing power lines

NBCUniversal, Inc.

What to Know

  • Fire at plastics facility continues to smolder
  • People near the fire are encouraged to stay indoors and avoid toxic fumes
  • No injuries reported in connection with the fire

A massive fire at a plastics facility in Grand Prairie continues to smolder close to 24 hours after it started. Meanwhile, officials are urging people to stay indoors because of the "toxic plume" rising from the scene that could be an irritant for people with respiratory issues.

The materials ignited and spread throughout the storage area about 300 yards wide along the 2000 block of West Marshall Drive near Texas Highway 161, according to Bill Murphy, assistant chief of operations with the Grand Prairie Fire Department. One rail car exploded and supporting towers for electricity lines are expected to collapse under the heat of the flames. At least three of Poly-America's freight rail cars had caught fire.

No buildings have been impacted by the fire and no injuries have been reported.

In an update more than eight hours after the fire began, Murphy told reporters just after 8 a.m. that though they had received assistance from several area fire departments, there was not enough foam to put out the fire. Firefighters were able to create breaks to contain the fire to one area of the factory complex and will now allow the fire to burn itself out, which was mainly out by the end of the day.

Murphy said the fire Wednesday was similar to one he fought at the facility more than three decades ago.

"It was about 32 years ago, same exact scenario. I don't remember what started it that night. We had bad storms as well, same as this one. It's going to burn for a couple of days," Murphy said. "Even though the flames are lower, once it burns down to where it's manageable we have to get in there with front-end loaders and once we break up the debris all that plastic underneath is burning. We're going to have to clean out the entire section and wet it down with foam. You can see how large of an area it is, we're talking maybe 300 yards worth. It's going to be at least a two-day operation out here before it's completely extinguished."

People with respiratory issues are urged to avoid the area and stay indoors because the plume of smoke could cause throat irritation, Murphy said. Air quality samples are expected to be taken in the area Wednesday. So far, no evacuations have been ordered for those who live in the immediate area.

"The smoke is toxic. Anybody out there with any respiratory issues, they need to avoid standing in this. Probably going to have a sore throat from it. Nobody needs to seek medical attention unless you have severe, severe difficulty breathing from it. It's just an irritant, but stay clear of it if you can," Murphy said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said they are providing air monitoring for volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. The EPA tells NBC 5 in an email that it has deployed its ASPECT plane, Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology. The EPA said it has airborne chemical detection capabilities to assist with air monitoring.

Nearby residents have reported sporadic power outages. Murphy said Oncor was quick to shut off the electricity in the lines above the fire and power was rerouted around it. Murphy said a "domino effect" was possible when the power line towers collapse at the factory site and other towers in the area could be pulled down as a result.

"We have de-energized and electrically isolated the location and the surrounding transmission towers from the rest of the grid to prevent any further outages," Oncor said in a statement. "As part of this effort, power has also been rerouted for the immediate surrounding communities ... personnel will remain on-site to assess any further impacts and continue coordination with first responders.”

NBC 5's Alanna Quillen spoke with several families who live near the site who were concerned about flames and potentially toxic smoke blowing into their neighborhood.

“You can see it everywhere,” she said. “This is literally right behind my apartments. It’s one of those things where I fear for my safety.”

A Poly-America employee told NBC 5 that he lives about 20 miles away from the factory and that he was surprised to learn that what he thought were rainclouds near his home was actually smoke from the fire.

Quillen said earlier in the morning she heard intermittent popping sounds at the scene of the fire, which could be seen from miles away and its smoke plume detected on NBC 5's S-Band Radar.

Supplies of fuel and foam fire retardant were a significant concern for fire crews at the scene, which included firefighters from Irving, Dallas, Cedar Hill and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Officials from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth were also assisting.

NBC 5 viewers as far as Haslet and Aledo emailed pictures and videos of the smoke plume to

Poly-America is the world's largest producer of polyethylene construction film and trash bag manufacturer in the United States, according to the company's website.

One building directly behind the fire was shut down and those employees were sent home. With none of the buildings directly impacted by the fire, Murphy said manufacturing work at the sprawling plant was ongoing Wednesday, though he wasn't sure if it was at 100%. He added that crews typically work at the facility 24/7.

"It's still operating. There is probably several hundred feet between the building and the fire and then the railroad tracks are between the building and the stored materials," Murphy said. "It's a pretty good distance to the building and they're not in any danger."

Murphy said 60 mph winds from Sunday night's cold front possibly damaged the electricity wires that fell and sparked the fire, though that has not yet been officially determined.

Editor's note: The initial versions of this story included reports from Bill Murphy, assistant chief of operations with the Grand Prairie Fire Department, that an overhanging power line fell onto plastic sheeting in a storage area at the Poly-America manufacturing plant, starting the fire. The fire department later concluded that was not the cause of the fire. Early photography of the fire shows the power lines in place. As of Aug. 25, 2020, the cause of the fire remained under investigation.

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