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Hundreds evacuated after Texas chemical plant fire

DALLAS (Reuters) - A large fire at a chemical plant south of Dallas that sent an enormous plume of smoke into the air on Monday forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in the city of Waxahachie, fire officials said.

A fire burns at the Magnablend Inc. chemical storage site in the Dallas suburb of Waxahachie, Texas October 3, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone

The fire broke out at the Magnablend Inc. plant at about 11 a.m. and spread quickly. Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins told reporters the fire was about 80 percent contained by around 2 p.m.

Smoke from the blaze could be seen for miles, but no one was injured. Some of those evacuated were allowed to return to their homes Monday evening, Waxahachie city spokeswoman Amy Hollywood said.

Firefighters and emergency workers from nearby areas, including Dallas, were brought in to help fight the blaze, which was started by a chemical reaction that quickly spread through the building, Hudgins said.

“There was so much black smoke and the flames were shooting into the air. It was really scary,” Waxahachie resident Patricia Kelsey said. “I could see it out my back door.”

Officials evacuated an eight-block radius around the plant, an area that included schools and a nearby community college in Waxahachie, about 30 miles south of Dallas.

Beyond that area, “we told people to shelter in place and keep their doors and windows closed,” said Diana Buckley, a spokeswoman for Ellis County, where the plant is located.

The plant produces a variety of chemicals that are used in agriculture, oil field production, commercial and industrial cleaning, water treatment and other industries.

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality were brought in to monitor air and water quality, Buckley said.

A fire tanker truck that was used to help fight the blaze was engulfed in flames and lost in the fire, Hudgins said.

“It was a huge fire,” resident Matt Harkins said. “We’ve lived here since 1987 and have never seen anything like this before.”

Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Cynthia Johnston