Gas plant explosions force evacuations in Austin County

- Explosions at Western International Gas in Bellville prompted mandatory evacuations for several hours Tuesday. Authorities said Bellville firefighters were first called to the explosion around 6:09 AM. 

The gas plant is located on the 7100 block of Hwy 159, about 60 miles northwest of Houston.

Clouds of black smoke billowed into the air for several hours Tuesday.  

At the peak of the blaze, dozens of homes within a 5-mile radius had to be evacuated and state highway 159 was shut down as first responders from near and far worked together to try and contain the fire. 

Around 2:30 PM, the evacuation perimeter was reduced to a 1-mile radius. The entire evacuation was completely lifted around 5 PM Tuesday. 

"I have received no information of any type of toxic run-off, or any type of toxic vapors in the air. The fire's contained within a building that's burning away from the hydrogen tanks, so the safest thing for everyone is to just let the fire burn itself out," said Austin County Sheriff Jack Brandes. 

Brandes said it's unclear what may have caused the initial explosion, but if it wasn't for the help of the surrounding entities, Brandes said it could've been worse. 

"With those actions they took, we were able to have zero injuries. No one has been hurt concerning this fire," Brandes said.

Several people in the community also jumped in to help. Just a few miles from the scene, the Red Cross opened a shelter at St. John Lutheran Church. Faith Academy also opened its doors to anyone who'd been displaced. 

Wendy Honeycutt and a group of local volunteers started collecting food, water and other supplies at Honeycutt Air-Conditioning, to deliver to first-responders working tirelessly in the heat.    

"Our community's pretty good at coming together and helping one another in times like this. There's definitely a lot of fear and a lot of concern because we all know one another, we're all related and we're all wanting to know who's where and is everybody safe," Honeycutt said. 

Brandes said crews will work into the night and around the clock to get this fire totally under control.

FOX 26 reached out to Western International and have not heard back. 

This story is developing and will be updated accordingly.

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