Athens, Texas (KETK) — Authorities announced at a Friday morning press conference the Athens fertilizer storage facility fire will be treated as a crime scene. Meanwhile, city officials will move forward with local activities after a slight delay.
According to the Old Fiddler's Reunion committee, events will begin Friday at around 5 or 6 p.m. Festivities will then start back up again at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
According to Athens Fire Chief John McQueary, the owner of the facility left at around 5:15 p.m. and about 30 minutes later, a large fire broke out at the East Texas Ag Supply fertilizer facility, located on the 400 block of North Underwood Street near the intersection of Larkin Street.
The Athens Fire Department ordered an initial evacuation of three blocks and set up a command post. The radius was then expanded to five blocks and later upped to 15. As of Friday morning, the evacuation area had been decreased to five blocks, and is in place due to smoke. Several agencies are working together to attempt to demolish the facility and rid the area of smoke.
According to Fire Chief John McQueary, the evacuations were put in place because the "magnitude of the fire deemed it a necessity." The chief also said the West explosion helped the facility avoid a worse tragedy by addressing issues following the blast in Central Texas. Firefighters, whom were trained on how to deal with ammonium nitrate following the West blast, avoided a larger catastrophe by letting the 70 tons of ammonium nitrate burn itself out and avoided dousing the flames with water.
Forty-seven residents were sheltered at the Cain Center in last night's incident. Officials expect people can return home Friday afternoon, but the situation is still being assessed.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has determined there is little to no toxicity in the atmosphere, but will continue to monitor the situation, said McQueary.
No cause has been determined at this time. A second press conference will follow at 2 p.m.
Rounders Pizza and Ken's Pizza have teamed up to provide free buffet meals to all first responders. Also, First State Bank has offered its parking lot Friday for the Farmer's Market. The regular grounds has been occupied by the commmand center setup by fire officials.
All schools are still in session.