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5 hurt after fire at Houston-area Shell petrochemical plant

DEER PARK, Texas (AP) — Fire erupted at a petrochemical plant in the Houston area Friday, leaving five workers hospitalized and sending up a huge plume of smoke visible for miles.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said the fire was at a Shell USA Inc. facility in Deer Park, a suburb east of Houston.

Law enforcement received a call to help divert traffic around the plant just after 3 p.m., Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Thomas Gilliland said. The city of Deer Park said in an advisory that there was no shelter-in-place order for residents.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a tweet that the fire was caused by a “heat exchange between two heavy gas oils,” but that the fire has since been contained and been diminished. Gonzalez said five contract workers were transported to a hospital “for precautionary reasons, largely due to heat.”

Shell was conducting their own air quality monitoring, but the city has yet to receive an update, said Kaitlyn Bluejacket, a spokesperson for the city of Deer Park. She said they have been advised by Shell that there is no need at the time to shelter in place, but that the city would update residents if that changed.

Fire crews from the plant and nearby plants are responding, as well as the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, which is leading the response, Gilliland said.

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, whose district includes Deer Park, said in a statement that his office has been assured that the situation is “under control” and that all employees have been accounted for. Garcia still urged people to avoid the area.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality officials said in a statement that they are responding to the industrial fire and have deployed air monitoring assets from the Houston, Beaumont and Austin offices to support local response.

Shell officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facility fires are not uncommon in the area, with the strong presence of the petrochemical industry. In March, an explosion and a fire erupted at a facility owned by INEOS Phenol in nearby Pasadena, Texas, leaving one injured.

A fire in 2019 at a facility owned by Intercontinental Terminals Company burned for days and though it caused no injuries, it triggered air quality warnings.