By CHRIS AGEE
A fatal fire, punctuated by an explosion as strong as a small earthquake, rocked the small town of West – about 20 miles north of Waco – Wednesday night.
Since then, investigators have determined between five and 15 individuals were killed and more than 160 others injured.
Reports indicate the blast leveled four city blocks surrounding the epicenter, Adair Grain’s West Fertilizer Co., and destroyed or significantly damaged as many as 75 houses, a 50-unit apartment building, a middle school and a nursing home. Emergency crews evacuated 133 patients from the nursing home, many of whom were disoriented and confused.
Palo Pinto County first responders say they are on hand to offer whatever assistance necessary to assist those affected by the incident.
“Right now, I’m on standby mode,” said Fire Marshal Buddy Harwell, noting he has been in contact with Texas Department of Emergency Management Regional Liaison Officer Sherri Copeland.
“Right now they have enough but I don’t know,” he added, indicating local agencies are prepared to respond should the need arise. “Lone Camp and Santo both have people that, if we are requested by the state, will respond.”
“We’re ready if they need us,” said Lone Camp Volunteer Fire Department Chief Charlie Sims.
County Judge David Nicklas has held the position, especially after the PK Complex fires of 2011, that local crews have a responsibility to assist other counties when appropriate, Harwell recalled.
“He told me anywhere, anytime that I need to go anywhere in the state, it’s on our dime,” Harwell explained. “Palo Pinto County owes the state” for assistance from other agencies during the local wildfires.
“We’re not going to go until we’re called or asked for,” he said, explaining crews remained in “a holding pattern” late Thursday morning.
Ray Mays, chair of the local Salvation Army Advisory Council, said the agency stands ready to assist in relief efforts.