One death in Crosby-area chemical facility fire

Image 1 of 4

CROSBY, Texas (FOX 26) — One person has died in a chemical facility fire in east Harris County.

A shelter in place has been ordered for all residents within a one-mile radius of the KMCO LLC facility fire on 16503 Ramsey Road in the Crosby area.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said that preliminary information indicates isobutylene initially started the fire and is continuing to burn with first responders trying to contain the flames and smoke. Two other people were taken by Life Flight medical helicopters in unknown condition.

"It’s my understanding that a transfer line is what initially ignited, and then an adjacent tank is what caught fire with isobutylene, and then an adjacent storage container next to that as well," said Sheriff Gonzalez during a news conference update on Tuesday afternoon. "Our understanding is that there are no active readings in the area neither on the air or on the ground right now, but there are some other fluids or chemicals in the complex that are concerning to us as well. So we’re actively monitoring that."

A shelter-in-place order has been lifted for all Crosby Indpendent School District campuses. 

Sheldon Independent School District had ordered all campuses and facilities to shelter in place but later lifted that order and announced that it would allow parents to pick up students from school early should they wish to do so and that students would be allowed to leave at normal dismissal times. The district also says it turned off all of its air units at around noon.

Channelview ISD facilities have "shut down all air handlers to prevent outside air from entering buildings." Out of an abundance of caution we will be canceling all outdoor activities and shutting down air handlers (air and ventilating system) for the remainder of the school day. The district announced that students will be dismissed as scheduled.

All outdoor activities have been canceled at the following Houston Independent School District campuses on Tuesday: 

  • Austin High School
  • BCM Biotech Academy at Rusk
  • Bonner Elementary School
  • Briscoe Elementary School
  • Burnet Elementary School
  • Cage Elementary School
  • Carrillo Elementary School
  • Chavez High School
  • Chrysalis Middle School
  • Crespo Elementary School
  • Davila Elementary School
  • Deady Middle School
  • DeZavala Elementary School
  • East Early College High School
  • Eastwood Academy
  • Edison Middle School
  • Elmore Elementary School
  • Fonwood Early Childhood Center
  • Forest Brook Middle School
  • Franklin Elementary School
  • Furr High School
  • Gallegos Elementary School
  • J.R. Harris Elementary School
  • R.P. Harris Elementary School
  • High School for Law and Justice
  • Hilliard Elementary School
  • Houston Educational Learning Center
  • Lantrip Elementary School
  • Laurenzo Early Childhood Center
  • Lewis Elementary School
  • Marshall Elementary School
  • McGowen Elementary School
  • Middle College HS – Fraga
  • Milby High School
  • Mount Carmel Academy High School
  • Navarro Middle School
  • North Forest High School
  • Oates Elementary School
  • Ortiz Middle School
  • Park Place Elementary School
  • Patterson Elementary School
  • Pleasantville Elementary School
  • Port Houston Elementary School
  • Robinson Elementary School
  • Rucker Elementary School
  • Sanchez Elementary School
  • Shadydale Elementary School
  • Southmayd Elementary School
  • Stevenson Middle School
  • Tijerina Elementary School
  • Whittier Elementary School
  • Young Scholars

Baseball games at Cowart Stadium have been canceled and the soccer playoff match of Furr vs. Stafford will be relocated to Dyer Stadium on 2020 Mangum Road, 77092.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office is assisting with controlling the perimeter of the facility while the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office is taking the lead in the firefighting operation.

John C. Foley, the president and chief executive officer of KMCO released the following statement on Tuesday:

There was an incident resulting in an ignition and fire today April 4, 2019 at KMCO, LLC in Crosby Texas. We are deeply saddened to confirm at this time that there have been injuries and one fatality. Those injured have been transported for medical treatment. Our hearts and prayers go out to the individuals involved, as well as our first responders, employees, and our community.

We have activated the company's emergency response team and incident command center. We are working with local first responders to extinguish the fire. We will give another update as additional information becomes available.

We apologize for any inconvenience to residents in the vicinity. The wellbeing of our people, neighbors and the environment remain our top priorities.

KMCO has a history of environmental violations.

Corporate agents for KMCO pleaded guilty in 2016 to a federal criminal charge of violating the Clean Air Act. A plea agreement document stated that a plant employee made false entries in logs of air testing of tanks that were known to be leaking chemicals. Another employee then used those falsified logs to submit reports to the federal and state environmental authorities. The document says the violation went on between 2008 and 2012.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited KMCO in 2015 for failing to comply with regulations on its risk-management plan for the plant, but settled with the plant for a $2,700 penalty.

Texas has served the plant with three notices of violation of a federal clean-air law since August 2018, the EPA website shows.

"EPA is on site at this point with our aerial aspect plane, our mobile TAGA bus, and teams out in the field," said Matt Loesel with the Environmental Protection Agency. "As she said, at this point, we have not seen any detections at action levels. We will continue to be monitoring throughout the community until the fire is out."

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has received 13 air quality complaints about the KMCO facility in Crosby between 2006 and Jan. 20, 2019.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia's office released the following statement on Tuesday afternoon:

Commissioner Adrian Garcia sends his heartfelt condolences to the family of the employee who passed away during the KMCO plant fire in Crosby.  He is praying for a speedy recovery of the two employees who sustained injuries and are currently in area hospitals. The incident prompted a shelter-in-place order for residents within a 1-mile radius, which was lifted at about 3:15pm.

As precaution, Commissioner Adrian Garcia will keep the following parks/facilities through the night:

  • Crosby Park
  • Crosby Sports Complex
  • Crosby Community Center

Environmental Defense Fund senior director Dr. Elena Craft released the following statement on Tuesday:

A chemical fire erupted near Houston for third time in 17 days on Tuesday. One person has died and two were critically injured in a fire at the KMCO chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, officials said. Published reports indicate that the facility has a history of environmental and workplace safety violations.

"Texas is failing to protect people from chemical fires and explosions and rogue releases of toxic air pollution. It is untenable. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must inspect every single facility every single year. That should be a bare minimum."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.