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Interview with Jack Williams, Houston Fire Department

Aired May 1, 2002 - 07:19   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We told you a little bit earlier on this morning about this chemical fire, a powerful fire that's burning at a chemical plant outside of Houston. And joining us on the telephone right now is the chief of the Houston Fire Department, Jack Williams -- good morning, Chief Williams. What's going on there?

CHIEF JACK WILLIAMS, HOUSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT: OK, right now, we are just kind of status quo. The fire is still burning obviously. We are still having a few subsequent explosions from the fire.

We do have everything contained at this time. We have got the area diked up around the fire, so that if there is any runoff, we can contain that runoff. Again, we still haven't had any injuries reported in this fire. We have been real fortunate with that.

ZAHN: I know the fire is considered to be in a desolate area, but does it present any kind of threat to residents there?

WILLIAMS: Well, most of the residents in the near area of this fire, we have evacuated. There is a big smoke plume that's going back it looks like towards the north. Right now, anybody in that smoke plume we have advised to shelter in place.

We do have TNRCC, which is a state agency. They are going to come out. They are going to do some air monitoring away from the area also for us and determine what, if anything, we need to do about the air monitoring. Right now, we have done some on-site monitoring, and everything appears to be OK at this time.

ZAHN: Now, I know this fire has been burning for some five hours now, and this is what the fire looks, that fire end of the process. Tell us a little bit about what this plant manufactured, and why this is so, so bad.

WILLIAMS: OK. This plant, they really don't manufacture anything. What they do is they receive products from big companies. They bring it out here, and they take that product and package it. They put it in smaller containers for sale to consumers. So they are really just a packaging facility.

Now, it is a tank farm, because they bring a lot of chemicals in here, and they do a lot of packaging. So that's why there are all these tanks are out here. They really don't manufacture anything as far as making the chemicals. It is strictly a packaging facility. ZAHN: Yes, I guess a plant employee told us earlier this morning that they have on hand -- what -- motor oil, hydraulic fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid and antifreeze, among other things. What else might they be packaging?

WILLIAMS: We don't have a full list of what it is, but it's my understanding it's almost anything that you can use around vehicles or maybe even in household chemicals to clean with or lubricants. There's just a big variety of a lot of stuff, so we don't know. We don't really have a listing on what all chemicals they bring into the plant, so it's kind of hard to know what all goes out at this time.

ZAHN: And apparently, this sits on a 15-acre tract of land. How many acres would you say are consumed by flames right now?

WILLIAMS: I am on the ground level. It's kind of hard to tell. We are guessing maybe five acres or less, something in that nature. We do know we have had -- there are a couple of warehouses that have been totally destroyed. We had one residence that has been destroyed by the fire. Those residents were evacuated prior to that happening.

ZAHN: How long do you think it will be before the fire is under control?

WILLIAMS: Well, we feel like the fire is going to take two to three days to burn out. The fire is under control as much as we can control it right now. We are really not trying to put any water on it and put the fire out. What we want to do is keep is contained to that one area and control any runoffs that might result from the fire.

Obviously if we go in there and put a bunch of water on this fire, that's more water and runoff that we've got to contain. So that's kind of the game plan right now is just to let it burn and contain anything that may run off from the fire.

ZAHN: And, Chief, in the meantime, is it true that you don't even have any fire hydrants down there, because this is in such a desolate area?

WILLIAMS: That's correct. There is no water system in this general area, so all of the water that we have here is brought in by tankers.

ZAHN: And your firefighters right now are -- what -- simply just digging trenches around the area?

WILLIAMS: No. There are ditches around the area, and we have diked up those ditches with sand. They have some portable tanks that they have put on the ground out here they use for just this type of situation, where they are in an area that doesn't have a lot of fire hydrants or a water supply. They bring a tanker in. They dump the water in a big make-shift tank, and go back for more water. And then, they have an apparatus to suck the water out of these portable tanks.

ZAHN: All right. Chief Williams, we wish you luck -- thank you very much for joining us. Once again, the fire chief of Houston saying this could take days to burn itself out. CNN will stay with this story all day long.

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