Highlands, TX Chemical Plant Blast, Dec 1983


Highlands, Texas (AP) -- Firefighters poured foam on a burning chemical plant today where a series of blasts touched off an inferno that raged out of control for 3 1/2 hours, buckling storage tanks and prompting 2,000 nearby residents to flee.
Five firefighters and two police suffered minor injuries, but the five workers on duty in the Hi-Port Industries plant escaped when the explosions began about 7:30 p.m. Monday, said Harris County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Macaluso.
The cause of the explosion and fire was unknown authorities said.
The inferno burned about seven acres of the 34-acre plant where jet fuel, insecticide and anti-freeze are made, Macaluso said.
Investigators probably will not be able to inspect the damage for two days because of the intense heat, he said. Although firefighters were still pouring foam on the burning plant, the blaze was described as contained today.
Mike Craighead, who lives in a mobile home park about 200 yards from the plant, said he and his family fled as soon as the fire began.
"We heard an explosion about every 30 or 40 seconds," Craighead said. "The fire started in a building, it looked like, and started moving toward our house. Then the wind shifted, and it looked like it was moving back toward the storage tanks.
At first you could see 75-gallon cans shooting into the air and being blown away."
"I'd like to go back and see if my house is still there, but they won't let me," he said.
Many other residents who left their homes in the community 20 miles east of Houston parked on streets outside the evacuation area and sat on their car hoods, eating, drinking and watching the flames.
Department of Public Safety Sgt. Rick Rose estimated 2,000 residents within two miles of the plant followed police advice to leave the area because of the toxic fumes the blaze was releasing.
Firefighters went door to door and used bull horns to warn residents of the hazard, said DPS spokeswoman Sandy Dominguez.
Ross said authorities did not know how many tanks in the plant were involved in the blaze or what they contained.

Winchester Star Virginia 1983-12-06