DEER PARK, Texas — Officials Tuesday afternoon said they are using offensive tactics to combat the eight tanks that continue burning in Deer Park.
Since 10 a.m. Tuesday, two more tanks caught fire and two re-ignited. One tank burned out. Bringing that to a total of eight tanks burning, which is three more than before.
Firefighters continue using foam and water to fight the flames. ITC officials said their primary goal is to contain the fire to the tank farm area.
Ryan Sitton, Commissioner of the Texas Railroad Commission, said there is no air quality concern.
"The stuff burning out of those tanks is a gasoline or gasoline blend...but there's not toxins in there," Sitton said. "There can be particulates in there, there may be ash that's coming out, but they’re the same risks you’d have in your backyard fire when you get ash out of that."
Sitton said there are four agencies -- ITC, TCEQ, Harris County and the EPA -- monitoring air quality. He said all of the monitors indicate there are no elevated risks.
Many schools are closed Wednesday, including Deer Park, La Porte, Channelview, Galena Park and Sheldon ISDs. San Jacinto College and Rhodes School for Performing Arts, Channelview campus are also closed.
While acknowledging "the dark cloud of smoke seems ominous," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said there's "no cause for alarm" as the huge plume from the Deer Park fire spreads west.
The mayor said air quality is being monitored around the clock, with 10 monitors providing hourly updates.
"If we detect any cause for alarm, we will be the first to let you know," Turner said.
On day 3 of the massive tank farm fire, emergency responders are still trying to suppress fire on five tanks. Three others have "burnt out" at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in the Deer Park area. Two more tanks that were empty have collapsed. And five tanks have, so far, been spared from the flames.
Watch a raw live video stream in the player above
Right now, the weather is on our side, according to Harris County Meteorologist Jeff Lindner.
He said the plume is at 4,000 feet and will rise to about 6,200 feet this afternoon as it continues moving west/northwest.
"As the winds weaken, the plume height could drop down," Lindner said.
"If the winds were to shift, there could be a bigger concern for our community," said Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo.
Even though air monitors aren't indicating unsafe levels, Harris County Public Health encourages people to contact their health provider if they experience adverse symptoms like headaches, nausea, dizziness or irritation of eyes, nose and throat among other possible symptoms.
People with respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD could experience "moderate effects," Mayor Turner said.
For information on air quality data, tap/click here (Note: Not all test sites are operated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, as some are installed by a third party, and therefore data may not be available).
Firefighters Tuesday morning were in defensive mode, using foam and water to prevent the fire from spreading. They say the risk of an explosion is "minimal."
“We have several foam engines and foam aerials that we’re currently using, and we’ve had pretty good success controlling fire and keeping it off the rest of the tanks,” said Ray Russell, CIMA Specialist with Incident Command.
There was a setback Monday after a temporary reduction in water pressure caused the fire to intensify and spread, according to ITC.
The company said two fire boat pumps malfunctioned Monday night causing a loss of water pressure to fight the fire from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m.
The City of Houston provided 5,000 gallons of water to help out.
ITC says water pressure and water resources have now been restored.
An ITC spokeswoman said emergency crews are focusing on preventing explosions.
“Emergency responders continue to work with foam and water to control and prevent the fire from spreading,” said ITC spokeswoman Alice Richardson. “We continue to take precautions to further reduce the risk of explosion.”
Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia is asking why ITC's CEOI didn't call for help on Sunday when the fire began.
"We’re in day 3. Should he have called in those out of state resources on Sunday? Should he have asked for more assistance on Sunday? I think that’s a question he needs to answer," Garcia said.
Air quality data: ReadyHarris.org/deerparkfire
Health information: Harris County Public Health
Fixed air monitoring sites: TCEQ
If another shelter-in-place is issued, here's what you need to know.
How to shelter-in-place
The following bullet points are from FEMA.gov:
- Bring your family and pets inside.
- Lock doors, close windows, air vents and fireplace dampers.
- Turn off fans, air conditioning and forced air heating systems.
- Take your emergency supply kit unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated.
- Go into an interior room with few windows, if possible.
- Seal all windows, doors and air vents with 2-4 mil. thick plastic sheeting and duct tape. Consider measuring and cutting the sheeting in advance to save time.
- Cut the plastic sheeting several inches wider than the openings and label each sheet.
- Duct tape plastic at corners first and then tape down all edges.
- Be prepared to improvise and use what you have on hand to seal gaps so that you create a barrier between yourself and any contamination.
According to their website, ITC Deer Park terminal stores all kinds of petrochemical liquids and gases, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil and distillates.
The ITC Deer Park terminal, which started in 1972, currently has
13.1 million barrels of capacity in 242 tanks. It stores petrochemical liquids and gases, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil and distillates. The terminal has five ship docks and ten barge docks, rail and truck access, as well as multiple pipeline connections.