By Russ Bynum
SAVANNAH, Ga. — A large fire burned Monday inside a chemical plant on the coast of Georgia, where authorities ordered about 100 nearby homes to evacuate because of threats from toxic smoke and potential explosions.
Emergency responders safely evacuated a handful of employees working when the fire broke out about 4 a.m. at the plant outside the port city of Brunswick, said fire Capt. Eric Prosswimmer, who was on the scene with fire crews from Jacksonville, Florida, sent to help battle the flames.
Residents living within a 1-mile (1.6 kilometer) radius of the plant remained under evacuation orders Monday afternoon, more then 12 hours after the fire started. Still, Prosswimmer said firefighters were making notable progress against the blaze.
“Most of the fire is out,” Proswimmer said late Monday afternoon, adding that he hoped people wouldn’t have to spend the night away from home.
“Once we believe it’s safe, that’s when they will lift the evacuations,” he said.
The fire sent a large plume of thick smoke into the air from the plant about 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Savannah. The smoke died down for a few hours late Monday morning, then flared up again for a short period in the afternoon — forcing firefighters to back away until it subsided.
Wayne Neal, chairman of Glynn County’s elected Board of Commissioners, estimated roughly 100 households had been told to evacuate. Law enforcement officers were using patrol cars to block entrances to affected neighborhoods.
In addition to the evacuations, people within a 3-mile (5-kilomter) radius were told to shelter in place.
Officials said they were mostly concerned about hazards posed by smoke drifting into populated areas.
There had also been explosions at the site.
Prosswimmer said heat from the fire had caused three metal tanks containing chemicals to explode.
Fighting the blaze was further complicated when firefighters depleted more than 1 million gallons (3.8 million liters) of water stored in tanks on the site. Tanker trucks filled with water were brought to the scene, where firefighters also used foam to battle the flames.
Prosswimmer said one firefighter suffering from exhaustion had been taken to a hospital and was in stable condition. There were no other injuries.
The plant is operated by Symrise, a German company that produces fragrances, flavoring and other ingredients for foods and cosmetics. The Georgia plant manufactures fragrance ingredients used in perfumes, detergents and household cleaners, Smyrise spokesperson Christina Witter said.
The company said in a statement Monday the cause of the fire was not known.
“Currently, Symrise has no reason to believe that the fire will cause additional health hazards to the local community,” the statement said. “Symrise will closely cooperate and support local authorities in analyzing the causes for the fire as soon as the authorities allow return to the area.”
Prosswimmer said an investigation would be conducted after the fire was extinguished.
An earlier version of this report had an incorrect spelling of Capt. Eric Prosswimmer’s last name.