Humboldt chemical fire forces 700 people to evacuate

Published: Mar. 28, 2007 at 12:13 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 31, 2007 at 11:25 AM CDT
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An aerial view from Chopper 5 shows smoke rising from a building destroyed by the fire.
An aerial view from Chopper 5 shows smoke rising from a building destroyed by the fire.
(Submitted by Marvin Sikes)
(Submitted by Marvin Sikes)
(Submitted by Marvin Sikes)
(Submitted by Marvin Sikes)

HUMBOLDT, Tenn. (AP) - Fire broke out in a chemical storage facility Wednesday, forcing as many 700 people to evacuate homes and businesses in the area, officials said.

About 100 people were evacuated from homes downwind from the fire and smoke, while up to 600 workers from manufacturing plants near the fire were told to leave by emergency officials, according to Humboldt Mayor Allen Barker. No injuries were immediately reported.

"Presently the smoke is blowing in a northwesterly direction, away from where it can cause harm," Barker said. "The evacuations are precautionary."

Fire authorities have not yet said what caused the fire at the Helena Chemical Co. warehouse and office in Humboldt, a town of about 9,500 residents 15 miles northwest of Jackson.

But Helena officials said in a news release that they believe the fire began when the warehouse was struck by lightning.

Authorities said the fire was still burning at midday. Firefighters cannot use water because of the chemicals in the building so they must let it burn down until they can apply foam to fully extinguish it, Barker said.

"It's still going pretty good. We're expecting it to be an all-day thing," said dispatcher Charlie Carter.

Helena Chemical makes a variety of crop protection products, agricultural chemicals, seed, fertilizer and related products, according to the company's Web site. The company is based in the Memphis suburb of Collierville.

Company officials said the facility includes an office for sales people and a warehouse used to store seeds, fertilizer and agricultural chemicals for sale to area farms. No people were in the building at the time of the fire.

Ed Brister, Helena's director of safety, health and engineering said that the company was glad the lightning struck before working hours and that no one was in the building.

"In situations like this we are most concerned about the safety of our employees and the community," a statement from Brister said.

Dispatcher Derrick Seymour of the Humboldt Fire Department says the alarm for fire came in about 6 a.m. and firefighters arrived at the Helena facility to find it completely ablaze.

Most of the people evacuated from surrounding homes were being taken to a nearby senior citizens center, Seymour said.