Houston chemical fire leaves one dead, two critically injured

The latest blaze follows a fire at a petrochemical storage site (above) in March 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

HOUSTON, Texas (BLOOMBERG) - An explosion and fire at a chemical plant north-east of Houston left one person dead and two battling for their lives, just two weeks after a blaze at an oil storage facility caused thousands of gallons of petrochemicals to flow into the city's shipping channel.

Plumes of black smoke that could be seen 40km away began to subside at about 1.30pm local time as firefighters fought to contain the blaze.

The priority was to make sure it does not spread to other tanks containing flammable materials, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a press conference.

"This still a dynamic situation," he said.

"Our main focus right now is to make sure we're in support to contain this."

Students near the fire at the KMCO plant in Crosby and residents within a one-mile radius were instructed to remain inside.

Sheldon Independent School District lifted a "shelter in place" order at just before 2pm to allow parents to pick up their children from school.

The Crosby plant is a chemicals blending facility which makes products used in brake fluid, antifreeze and in oil production and refining, according to its website.

The fire started on a line transferring isobutylene, a flammable gas, before spreading to a warehouse containing dry chemicals, Gonzalez said.

A spokeswoman for the Harris County Fire Marshall's office said the blaze "should be out soon" as long as it does not spread to nearby storage facilities.

The disaster comes just two weeks after oil storage tanks owned by Mitsui & Co's Intercontinental Terminal burned for four days, causing thousands of gallons of gasoline products to pour into the Houston Ship Channel.

As many as 1,000 people sought medical attention due to smoke and benzene levels in the air and the waterway was shuttered for days, starving refineries of feedstocks.

KMCO is owned by Owner Resource Group, a private equity firm based in Austin, Texas.

Its sites in Crosby and Port Arthur have the capacity to produce more than 410 million kilograms a year of chemicals.

The Crosby site has 28 reactors and more than 600 chemical storage tanks, according to KMCO's website.

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