Texas petrochemicals blaze blankets Houston area in black smoke

Key Points
  • A blaze continues to burn at a Houston-area petrochemicals storage terminal for a third day.
  • The fire worsens after a drop in water pressure hampered efforts by first responders to contain the blaze.
  • Air monitoring readings are below hazardous levels and no injuries have been reported, the operator says.
A plume of smoke rises from a petrochemical fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company, Monday, March 18, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas.
David J. Phillip | AP

The ongoing fire at a petrochemicals storage terminal in Deer Park, Texas, intensified overnight, blanketing parts of the Houston area in dramatic clouds of black smoke on Tuesday.

The blaze ripped through the Intercontinental Terminals facility for a third day, worsening after a drop in water pressure hampered attempts by first responders to contain the fire. By Tuesday morning, flames had engulfed 10 of the facility's 242 tanks, though two were empty.

Additional fire-fighting staff arrived on site on Tuesday, Intercontinental Terminals said. Local authorities say the fire could burn for at least another day, the NBC News affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth reported.

The fire broke out on Sunday morning in a storage tank containing naphtha, a super light oil used to make high-grade gasoline, jet fuel and petrochemicals. It later spread to tanks containing another gasoline component and a chemical used to make nail polish remover and glue.

Despite the stunning images of smoke billowing from the facility, air monitoring continues to show readings are well below hazardous levels, Intercontinental Terminals said in a press release on Tuesday. The company also said no injuries have been reported.

Intercontinental Terminals said there is little chance of an explosion, but it's taking precautions by pumping naphtha, which is combustible, out of tanks.

The city of Deer Park initially advised residents to shelter in place, but lifted the warning on Monday. The blaze temporarily shut Highway 225, which runs from the city of Houston east to the Houston Ship Channel, where the Intercontinental Terminals facility is located.

The fire is unlikely to significantly impact gasoline consumers or the overall logistics and distribution network in the Houston area, said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates.

The Coast Guard restricted access to docks at the terminal, but ship traffic in the greater Houston Ship Channel has not been disturbed, Reuters reported.