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The Latest: Texas officials lift order to remain indoors

1 year 3 months 2 weeks ago Thursday, March 21 2019 Mar 21, 2019 March 21, 2019 11:41 AM March 21, 2019 in News - AP National

HOUSTON (AP) - The Latest on a fire that had been burning at a Texas petrochemical storage facility (all times local):

12:30 p.m.

Officials have lifted an order to remain indoors after several readings showed that the air quality had improved near a scorched petrochemical storage facility in suburban Houston.

City officials in Deer Park lifted the order Thursday and reopened roads around the Intercontinental Terminals Company, where a fire burned for the previous three days.

They say several state and other agencies will continue to monitor the air after elevated levels of benzene were detected early Thursday, prompting the shelter-in-place order.

The fire began Sunday and sent a huge, dark plume of smoke thousands of feet into the air before being extinguished Wednesday.

The tanks that caught fire contained components of gasoline and materials used in nail polish remover, glues and paint thinner. ITC says 11 of the 15 storage tanks located in the area where the fire occurred were damaged.

Authorities haven't revealed the cause of the blaze.

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Noon

A woman who lives near a Houston-area petrochemical storage facility that burned for days says she decided to leave home with her two children after authorities told people to stay indoors due to elevated levels of benzene in the air.

Kristin Crump said Thursday that she placed damp wash cloths over her mouth and those of her 13- and 6-year-old children as they walked to their car and left to stay with family elsewhere.

It is the second time Crump has left her home since the fire began Sunday at the Intercontinental Terminals Company, which is less than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away.

She left the area Tuesday with her children after they complained of headaches. The three returned a day later.

The fire was extinguished Wednesday but officials said early Thursday that elevated levels of benzene had been detected.

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9:25 a.m.

Authorities say it appears that the suppressive foam firefighters are using at a Houston-area petrochemicals storage facility is separating at times and allowing dangerous benzene vapors to escape before another layer of foam can be applied.

Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen said at a news conference Thursday that crews are applying layer after layer of foam where several storage tanks burned at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, southeast of Houston.

The fire began Sunday and was extinguished Wednesday, but a flare-up occurred later Wednesday that crews are working to prevent from occurring again.

Authorities say winds are light Thursday so the vapors aren't spreading beyond the immediate area of the ITC plant.

They say orders to stay indoors are being done "out of an abundance of caution."

At least three area school districts cancelled classes Thursday.

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8:10 a.m.

National Guard troops are on the scene and residents are being told to stay inside after elevated levels of benzene were detected near a Houston-area petrochemicals storage facility that caught fire this week.

Harris County officials said Thursday that the Guard and hazardous materials teams have established perimeters around the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that benzene levels near the facility didn't pose a health concern. But authorities now say a shelter-in-place order following "reports of action levels of benzene or other volatile organic compounds" within Deer Park.

Several school districts also canceled classes for the day, citing "unfavorable air quality conditions."

The fire started Sunday, sending a huge, dark plume into the air, and spread to storage tanks holding components of gasoline and materials used in nail polish remover, glues and paint thinner.

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This story has been corrected by deleting an erroneous reference to the Texas Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is a federal agency.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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