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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fire Destroys Biodiesel Refinery in Mississippi

A small biodiesel refinery that turns chicken fat into truck fuel was reduced to ashes on Wednesday by powerful explosions and a huge fire.

The fire broke out between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. after a pressurized tank exploded at JNS Biodeisel on Highway 15 in New Albany, Miss., the plant manager and local authorities said.

“Right now everything is a pile of rubble, and it’s just burning,” Carl Harlin, the plant manager, said in an interview with Reuters. He said the fire had begun to die down on Wednesday afternoon before he heard a second explosion.

After that, “everything burned,” he said.

A television crew from WMC-TV in Memphis was at the scene when the second explosion happened, sending up a huge orange ball of fire.

Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

The fire became so big and hot that firefighters were unable to touch it and decided to let it burn itself out, a process that could take several hours or a couple of days, Trooper Ronny Ray Hall, a spokesman for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, said in a telephone interview.

Two workers who were at the plant when the first tank exploded escaped unharmed, and all of the plant workers have been accounted for, Mr. Harlin said in an interview with WMC-TV. New Albany, the seat of Union County, is about 50 miles southeast of Memphis.

Twenty-five homes and several businesses were evacuated on Wednesday, Trooper Hall said. No injuries were reported, but emergency authorities still did not have access to the site on Wednesday.

The explosion knocked out power lines that provide electricity to the nearby town of Blue Mountain, leaving its residents without power for about seven hours, the state Emergency Management Agency said in a statement. The stretch of Highway 15 near the site remained closed Wednesday night while emergency crews worked the scene. The state Department of Environmental Quality was testing air samples for hazardous materials, but so far tests had not detected anything, the agency said.

Online pictures and videos showed thick, towering plumes of black smoke rising over what remained of the refinery.