Louisiana Plant Fire Will be Allowed to Burn Itself Out

June 16, 2011

A fire at a southern Louisiana chemical plant was being allowed to burn down Wednesday before firefighters approached to put it out and investigators went inside to search for a cause.

Tuesday afternoon’s explosion and fire at the Multi-Chem Corp. plant in New Iberia forced the evacuation of businesses and homes within a 1-mile radius. No one was hurt.

The evacuation order remained in effect Wednesday morning. Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality staffers at the scene have identified xylene, toluene and methanol among chemicals at the site, department spokeswoman Jean Kelly said. All three can pose health risks.

However, the corporation and the DEQ said air quality measurements in the evacuation area were at safe levels as of Wednesday morning and that air monitoring was continuing. Chemicals for oilfields are blended and stored at the plant.

Ryan Turner, spokesman for the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, said there was no estimate of how many people were evacuated. The area is mostly industrial and commercial, though there are some homes.

State police and Iberia Parish emergency management officials said the first blast was reported around 4 p.m. Tuesday, followed by several more explosions. The plant is near the Acadiana Regional Airport, which was shut down as a precaution and remained closed to air traffic Wednesday.

“We are very grateful that there were no serious injuries in this situation, but we do regret that the incident caused an evacuation among the immediate area and concern among the local community,” Multi-Chem said in a news release.

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