Fire burns for 3 days as Hurricane Laura hits, causing Governor to issue shelter-in-place order
In the aftermath of the deadly and destructive Hurricane Laura, Bio-Lab Chemicals, a major pool chemical manufacturing plant, caught fire and burned for three days.
The fire broke out at the Bio-Lab Chemicals, Westlake, Louisiana, plant, just west of Lake Charles. It started at approximately 8 a.m. on August 27, about seven hours after Hurricane Laura made landfall. When the storm hit, the plant was storing 835 tons of trichloroisocyanuric acid (tri-chlor).
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials said the fire was finally put out at 11:30 a.m. on August 29, more than 50 hours after it was first reported.
The fire’s cause remains under investigation. According to State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves, an “undetermined” amount of the leaked chlorine began generating heat and burning, releasing gas into the atmosphere.
According to a Bio-Lab statement, the facility had already been evacuated in advance of the hurricane, after following shut-down protocols. All employees were confirmed to be safe.
Reports say that a nine-person “rideout” crew evacuated the plant on the morning of August 26. The “ride-out” crew returned to the Westlake plant on August 27 and found flames at 7:48 am.
Smoke from the Bio-Lab Chemical manufacturing plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana filled the skies on August 27, 2020. The fire burned for 2 days and no injuries were reported. The crew was not able to put out the flames.
Downed utility lines, trees and other wreckage from Laura created a major challenge for first responder units to reach the site.
First responders included the Louisiana State Police, the Lake Charles Fire Department, Environmental Protection Agency personnel and monitoring aircraft, as well as the Cajun Navy, a southern Louisiana volunteer group that responds to natural disasters.
KIK Custom Products, Bio-Lab’s parent company also sent a team to the scene.
“We are deploying a specialized team to the site, and we are working with first responders, local authorities and environmental agencies to contain and mitigate the impact of this incident as quickly as possible,” the statement read.
The fire was largely extinguished by the evening of the day it started, August 27, but flared back up and was still burning the following day, although it was reported to be contained. It was finally extinguished on August 29.
Thick smoke billowed from the fire and Governor John Bel Edwards issued a shelter-in-place advisory for residents of Westlake, Moss Bluff and Sulfur. Residents were advised to close windows and doors, and shut off air conditioners.
According to Police Superintendent Reeves, chlorine gas was released into the air by the fire. However, Louisiana state Fire Marshall Butch Browning said at a press conference that there appeared to be limited danger to the public.
“The plume — as it goes into the air and it moves out — there is chlorine in that obviously, but those chemicals are falling into the lake which is the right place for it because it dilutes the chlorine,” Browning said.
It was reported that a large quantity of chlorine gas settled in nearby waterways, possibly contaminating them. However, according to Department of Environmental Quality officials, water testing in Bayou Contraband, which runs alongside Bio-Lab, revealed no chlorine pollution.
This is not Bio-Lab’s only fire.
In May, 2004, in Converse, Georgia, a massive warehouse fire with multiple explosions occurred at a Bio-Lab plant, causing over $25 million in damage and forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people. The 260,000-square-foot metal warehouse contained 125 tons of dry chlorine pellets.
In June, 2016, this same facility caught fire, although on a much smaller scale. Residents within a mile of the plant were evacuated, but given the allclear to return within two hours.
And in September, 2006, a Bio-Lab UK factory in Andoversford, England, exploded, leaking pool treatment chemicals into a nearby river, and killing thousands of fish. Residents in the immediate area were advised to stay indoors with their windows closed.
KIK Custom Products, Bio-Lab’s parent company, is based in Toronto, Canada, and bills itself as one of North America’s largest independent manufacturers of consumer products. KIK’s products include Comet, Spic and Span, The Works household cleaners, Prestone Automotive fluids, Clorox and BioGuard pool disinfectants.