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Ammonium nitrate fire forces mass evacuation

At one point the entire city of Bryan was forced to evacuated At one point the entire city of Bryan was forced to evacuated
Fire Chief Mike Donaho calls in the latest evacuation orders to the community EOC. Fire Chief Mike Donaho calls in the latest evacuation orders to the community EOC.

by Patrick Tolbert

BRYAN - Thousands of people were ordered to leave their homes and offices as a toxic fire raged Thursday afternoon in Bryan.


  • Evacuations still in place for those in
    immediate area
  • Red Cross  shelter set up at Reed Arena- now closed.
  • The Community Emergency
    center asks that you call 979-891-1042 with
    all routine service calls instead of 911.
  • Highway 21 closed between
    FM 2818 and Highway 47
  • Texas A&M issued a Code Maroon: campus closed.
  • Hospital reports:
       St. Joseph's: 22 patients
       The Med: 10 patients

At one point officials ordered the entire City of Bryan, nearly 70,000 people to evacuate. Nearly 800 people sought refuge in the Reed Arena, an estimated 300 people were expected to stay there overnight.  Others filled A&M Consolidated Middle School and Pearce Pavilion while others still clogged the streets out of town, just trying to get south of the blaze. 

At 8:40 p.m. the Incident Commander reported the fire was still smoldering.

"The good news," he said "is the danger for an explosion is, for the most part, over. Now it's all about making sure it's safe for people to return and safe for the environment."

As the situation eased, officials scaled back the number of mandatory evacuations. As of 8:50 p.m., only about 1,000 people were affected by the evacuations.

The evacuation zone is bordered by OSR to the west, Sandy Point Road to the north, Harvey Mitchel Parkway to the east, Leonard Road and Highway 47 to the south. The roads are all closed.

John Carver with El Dorado Chemicals reports the plant on Highway 21 is a "typical dry blend fertilizer" facility. He reports a crew was welding in an empty ammonia nitrate storage bin when a spark started a small, smoldering fire.

Two workers were in the building at the time of the fire; both escaped uninjured.

Firefighters quickly responded to the scene only to discover they could not use water to battle the fire.

"Our normal mode of operation is to be very aggressive to get water on the fire as quickly as possible in this situation water isn't our friend if we put water on the fire it creates more of a problem the chemicals are water reactive it spreads the fire and in some cases it can intensify it to the point of exploding," said Bryan Fire Chief Mike Donaho.

A HAZMAT team from the U.S. Army was training in the area when the fire started; and were quickly diverted to the scene of the fire. A team from the Environmental Protection Agency was deployed to measure air quality using aircraft and  also en route to the fire.

Officials at Coulter Field, just south of Highway 21 from the fire reported the airport was closed to incoming traffic; the entire area was restricted to a no-fly zone.

St. Joseph's Hospital accepted 22 patients before moving to divert status. The College Station Medical Center reported it received 10 patients, all suffering from breathing difficulties. The Med also ordered a "code yellow," meaning all personnel were called into prepare for victims from the external disaster.

Texas A&M University issued a Code Maroon telling faculty and staff that classes were canceled and campus is closed.

Due to the fire, the City of Bryan compost facility was evacuated. The City reported the evacuation "may cause some interruption in service for the City's residential brush and bulky collection today." They say any trash not picked up Thursday will be collected as soon as possible. 


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