BARTLETT, Texas - A smoldering pile of twisted steel and fertilizer is pretty much all that remains of the American Plant Food Corporation facility in Bartlett after a fire Sunday night.
"We did make the determination to keep school in session because we felt there was no danger for the children or the citizens in the area," said Chief Steven Wentrcek with the Bartlett Volunteer Fire Department.
The fire started around 8:30 p.m. Aug. 20 and could be seen for miles. Those who drove by it, including Kelly Carter and her family, felt it.
First responders from several different agencies quickly converged on the small town. It was a large response according to a news release from Williamson County.
Responding crews included the Bartlett, Salado, Jarrell, Hutto, Temple, Georgetown, Holland, Round Rock and Central Bell fire departments; the Milam County and Williamson County sheriff's offices; the Texas Department of Emergency Management; the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; the Williamson County and Bell County offices of Emergency Management; the Williamson County Pct. 4 Constable's office; the Bartlett Electric Co-Op; the Bartlett Police Department; and Union-Pacific Railroad.
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"I’ve never seen fire that high, but other than that they took care of it ok," said Bartlett resident Anthony Fischer.
Homes near the plant were evacuated as the metal building collapsed onto piles of fertilizer inside, as the material is made and stored there for local farmers to use.
The scene was an immediate reminder of the 2013 deadly fire in the town of West, north of Waco. The explosion at that fertilizer plant killed 15 first responders and damaged more than 100 buildings.
A similar disaster didn’t happen in Bartlett Sunday, largely because a different type of fertilizer was stored there. Regardless, Mayor Chad Mees said they were ready.
"I think ever since the West explosion happened, fire departments all across the state have trained for that type of reaction for facilities like these, our local fire department has visited the specialty multiple times, and has had a plan of action in place for years now, in case anything like this ever did happen at this fire department. They jumped in right off the bat last night and did a fantastic job," said Mees.
Residences in Bartlett were told to remain on alert as there was concern that a grass fire could be sparked by hot amber blowing off of the plant. Around 1 a.m. a small fire did pop up across the railroad tracks in a field.
While fire crews knocked down the flames with water, Chief Wentrcek explained why wasn’t initially used on the feed plant.
"To make sure that the runoff from all of our firefighting activities didn’t contain any anything that was hazardous to the surrounding creeks so we allowed the product to burn off this morning," said Chief Wentrcek.
Dr. Larry Unruh, a representative of American Plant Food Corporation, told FOX 7 Austin he notified fire crews and officials with TCEQ about the materials onsite. Unruh said the materials do not pose a serious environmental threat to the nearby creek and water could be sprayed on it. Later in the afternoon a fire crew was seen putting water onto hot spots.
No one was hurt during the fire and the cause was being investigated by the county fire marshal.
A company official told FOX 7 Austin the site was insured but a decision on rebuilding has not been made.