A massive inferno at a petrochemical plant outside of Houston, Texas, is still raging. The fire started Sunday morning at the Intercontinental Terminals Company facility in Deer Park and has destroyed eight of the company’s large chemical storage tanks. Although early estimates predicted the fire would be extinguished by Wednesday, issues with firefighting equipment have complicated the response.
“Fuel has burned off and we’ve said from the beginning that may be what has to happen,” said Laurie Christensen, the Harris County Fire Marshal while briefing the press, according to Bloomberg. “I’m not going to give you a time because, as we know, overnight it has changed.”
The tanks involved contain a chemical known as naphtha, which according to the chemical’s Safety Data Sheet, is highly flammable and poses a threat to health, especially if swallowed or inhaled. Naphtha is used in the manufacturing of gasoline to boost the liquid’s octane. The chemical can also cause damage to the environment, if released.
The fire has spewed smoke and fumes into the surrounding area, including downtown Houston. At this time, no regulatory agency has issued any type of health advisory due to the smoke, but that could change if the situation deteriorates. Many Houston residents have taken to social media and expressed their concern over the smoke and fumes which are still billowing from the fire.
— Victor Collantes (@vitocoll80) March 19, 2019
— Yana (@Yana_Montana) March 19, 2019
— Felicia Larson (@fefTxgirl) March 19, 2019
Although the fire could pose a health risk to the 2.3 million people living in and around Houston, the economic impact of the fire has yet to be seen. There are approximately 13 million “barrels of chemicals, petroleum, fuel oil and gases,” located at the tank farm where the fire is burning. The facility sits on the northern bank of the Houston Ship Channel, and further damage to the area – or the possibility of pollution spilling into the water – could wreak havoc on the numerous vessels which traverse the channel every day.
Despite the possible danger to maritime activity along the Houston Ship Channel, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has not issued a notice to mariners. According to Petty Officer Kelly Parker, a USCG public affairs specialist, they’re actively monitoring the situation and have issued a safety information broadcast informing ships in the channel of the fire.