Smoke from Texas chemical plant explosion subsides after prompting shelter-in-place orders

Firefighters had the fire knocked down by Wednesday evening, but officials were still advising people to stay away from the scene.

SHEPHERD, Texas – An explosion at a petroleum processing plant in Shepherd, Texas, on Wednesday sent a massive plume of smoke to the north, prompting emergency officials to order nearby communities within a 5-mile radius to shelter in place and turn off all air conditioning systems.

The explosion at Sound Resource Solutions happened just after 8 a.m. CST. Smoke was being carried north for hours toward the town of Livingston by southerly winds of about 15-20 mph. 

Polk County Emergency Management officials urged residents along U.S. Highway 59 to shelter in place and turn off their HVAC systems early Wednesday. That order was lifted late Wednesday afternoon.

Students at Wildwood Private School near the plant were safely evacuated to a local high school, officials said. 

Emergency management officials said the plant is known to use materials that have an acute toxicity. Initial air quality readings did not indicate high levels of harmful elements.

Officials were still advising people to stay away from the scene of the fire Wednesday evening.

There were 19 people inside the plant at the time of the explosion, officials with San Jacinto County emergency management said. One person was hospitalized for minor burns. 

It’s unclear what triggered the explosion, and a preliminary investigation is already underway, Sound Resource Solutions President Geoff Harfield said. Among the chemicals burning are diesel and turpentine. Firefighters spent much of the day spraying a foam-like substance on the flames and had it knocked down by early Wednesday evening.

The hotspot and smoke from the explosion could be seen on satellite imagery despite a thick layer of clouds over the Lone Star State.