, CHICAGO, Jul 31 – A fire at a chemical plant has forced the evacuation of a Texas town of 72,000 people after it released a massive plume of toxic orange smoke that could be seen for miles, officials said.
No serious injuries were reported as a result of the fire, but officials called for the mass evacuation after the smoke blanketed much of Bryan, Texas, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Houston.
The danger comes from the huge amounts of ammonium nitrate stored in the burning warehouse which was affecting people’s eyes, noses and throats, officials said.
Ten people were hospitalized with respiratory problems, local media reported.
"The fire department has not been able to put it out for the safety of the firefighters," city spokesman Kendall Kessel told AFP.
"They’re just letting it burn so it could take hours to completely burn out."
The evacuation was "pretty smooth" because it was ordered in stages, said Kendell, who could not confirm the report of hospitalizations.
The fire began shortly before midday after a welder set off sparks in the plant, local television station KBTX said.
A shelter was set up at Texas A&M University in nearby College Station and KBTX showed footage of about 250 people gathered in the arena.
A number of people have decided to stay in their homes and city officials have asked them to keep the doors and windows closed and turn off their air conditioning units, Kessel said.
The evacuation is not mandatory and officials are not preventing people from going home but officials asked people to "use good judgment."
"This is a dangerous chemical and we don’t want to wait and see if it’s going to be bad. We need to take action now," fire chief Mike Donoho told the local paper.
"I’m sorry if it’s an inconvenience to people, but we’re erring on the side of caution."