Several chemical explosions rocked the Industrial Park area near Mineral Wells High School early Monday afternoon.
No injuries were reported to workers or firefighters as a result of three explosions at Buckley Oil Company on S.E. Industrial Parkway, off U.S. Highway 180 East adjacent to Southwire, Reeder Distributors and Mineral Wells Fire Department Station No. 2.
Three explosions were reported around 1:15 p.m., and heavy, black toxic smoke billowed from the property – which became a concern though conditions were such that the smoke rose largely straight into the air and dissipated. Mineral Wells ISD was not in session Monday so there were no health or safety concerns about high school students or faculty.
Mineral Wells Fire Chief Mike Pool said five workers were inside a large covered, but not totally enclosed, area preparing what he described as two 600-gallon totes containing volatile chemicals heptane and toluene. Heptane is a main component of gasoline, while toluene is a gasoline additive and is used as a solvent.
“They are very volatile,” Pool said of the chemicals. “They have a very low flashpoint.”
With low humidity, Pool said the working theory is a static electrical charge sparked a flash fire. He said that is not an official cause and an investigation into what ignited the chemicals and caused the fire remains under investigation.
“It definitely was an accident,” said Pool. “It wasn't intentional.”
A high-density sprinkler system inside the covered area dumped large amounts of water quickly on the fire, Pool said. He said firefighters were able to quickly respond and spray the area down with a smothering foam. The fire was brought under control within about 30 minutes and within an hour was out, leaving a large clean up operation.
The chief said weather conditions and the quick response helped prevent the fire from becoming worse. He said it is also likely the chemicals burned up quickly.
“It was probably a best case scenario,” Pools said. “Our people and equipment were available.”
He said it was also fortunate the five employees were able to escape uninjured.
“The smoke and wind was something I was concerned about,” Pool said of the scene's initial assessment. “I thought we might have to evacuate Southwire and Reeder.”
Pool said he believes chemical runoff was contained thanks to the parking lot's design and a containment tank. He said he was unsure about the eastside of the property where there was no access. Pool said the company would bring in an environmental team to assess and clean up.
“I don't think we had an issue,” he said.
Because it was a chemical fire firefighters and equipment involved were put through portable decontamination showers at the scene and personnel were instructed to completely shower immediately so as not to possibly spread chemicals elsewhere.
“If we are exposed we have to decontaminate people and gear,” Pool said.