(Reuters) - A blast and fire at a chemical plant near Houston killed one person on Tuesday and injured two others, in an incident involving a highly flammable gas, officials said, less than a month after a similar fire in the region that burned for days.
The fire at a plant operated by KMCO LLC in Crosby, Texas, northeast of Houston, led officials to temporarily order residents and schoolchildren within a mile of the plant to stay inside.
The order was lifted after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detected no threat of contamination, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
“Our understanding is that there are no active readings in the area, either in the air or on the ground,” Gonzalez told a news conference.
It was the second fire at a Houston-area chemical plant in less than three weeks. On March 17, a blaze erupted at a Mitsui unit Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) plant in Deer Park, burning for three days and destroying 11 tanks holding thousands of barrels of gasoline and other fuels.
The Mitsui plant fire led officials to close schools in Houston suburbs for several days because air-quality monitors detected elevated levels of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical.
Deer Park, the suburb of Houston where last month’s fire broke out, is about 20 miles (30 km) south of Crosby, scene of the latest chemical fire.
The fire on Tuesday began when a transfer line ignited near a tank with Isobutylene, which quickly caught fire, Gonzalez said. Isobutylene is used to make isooctane, a component of aviation fuel.
A victim was declared dead at the scene and two people with injuries were airlifted to a hospital, officials said. Their conditions were not immediately known.
Worker Randy Villalobos told local ABC13 television he was at the KMCO plant when the tank ignited and his first thought was: “Get out as fast you can.”
In a statement, KMCO apologized to residents in the vicinity of the fire and said the well-being of people in the area was its top priority.
KMCO manufactures chemicals and provides services for chemical companies worldwide.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney