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Chemical Plant Catches Fire

The Red Cross set up cots in the gym at North Kansas City High School.
(Sylvia Maria Gross, KCUR)
The Red Cross set up cots in the gym at North Kansas City High School.

By Maria Carter


Kansas City, MO – A black cloud of smoke loomed over Kansas City, the result of the fire at Chemcentral. What sparked the fire at the chemical plant is still unknown. Firefighters quickly arrived at the scene but had to pull back after noticing nearby rail tankers filled with flammable liquid were steaming. Fire Chief Smokey Dyer calls the situation potentially dangerous.

Dyer: It was definitely a fire that could not be extinguished, could not be controlled. Therefore essential to withdraw immediately especially when further explosions are going off.

There were two minor injuries as people left the premises. Chemcentral works with a number of different chemicals, everything from material for rubber and plastics to shampoo ingredients. Fire officials say the plant had a clean safety record with the city. The company's lawyer Dan Brennan says the Chemcentral takes steps to avoid hazards.

Dan Brennan: We're even pretty cautious of the types of materials we sell...I believe we have almost nothing that if it was accidentally mixed would be reactive. Which means it would cause a chemical reaction. We try to think these things out pretty well.

Chemcentral had a fire at a plant near Seattle in 1999. The location was declared a Superfund site and the company settled with the EPA for 24-thousand dollars. A one mile area around the chemical plant was evacuated after the original explosion. City officials estimate that about 3000 people live in the area. Jim Bormann's house is across the street from the facility and he works two blocks away.

Jim Bormann: I tried to go to my house, they wouldn't let me close to it, well you could hear booms - you could watch the fire, just exploding out of there.

Bormann was one of 16 people to check in at the shelter set up by the American Red Cross at North Kansas City High School. 12 Red Cross volunteers staffed the site, and they prepared to receive up to 500. But by evening, the mandatory evacuation had narrowed to just the 5 blocks around the plant.

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