FOX47 NEWS - Chemical Plant Explosions

Jeff Angileri
May 12, 2009, 4:26 AM

Nearly 150 people evacuated their homes overnight after a series of explosions at Columbus Chemical Industries.

It happened Monday just after 8 p.m. Officials don't know what caused the fire, but emergency crews from all over southern Wisconsin responded. At least three firefighters were injured battling the blaze. And the fire is still burning.

Flames shot more than a hundred feet into the night sky, after explosions rocked the chemical plant on the north side of Columbus.

Oh...I mean it just took your heart away...just like boom...and it was like wow. We were pretty scared, said evacuee Cheryl Hoffman.

Fire engulfed the building, sending a chemical-laced plume of smoke into the air.

You could see the smoke was just permeating from all cracks and crevices, from the north end of the building you could see it coming out of the soffit and so forth, said Dr. David Gerber, who evacuated seven animals from his nearby Columbus Countryside Veterinary Clinic.

Police, fire, Hazmat crews, even national guard units came from as far as 20 miles away to help.

The fire was dangerous due to the chemicals we are all aware were stored at that location, said Gerald Sallmann, Columbus Emergency Management Director. A series of explosions took place.

Firefighters decided to let the blaze burn itself out, for fear any water they threw at it would interact with the chemicals and cause more explosions.

Meanwhile, police closed Highways 73 and 151, and ordered a voluntary evacuation for everyone living within a half mile of the site.

Officials say people outside the evacuation area should stay in their homes with the doors and windows closed -- and furnaces off.

People who feel a sensation in their eyes, nose or throat should seek medical attention right away.

Spokesperson for Columbus Chemical Thomas Godar said 55 employes work at the company; none were there when the fire started.

Columbus Chemical Company makes chemicals including mineral acids, hydrochloric acids, salts, some of which are used in electronic chips.

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