Video: Plant explosion in Iowa

updated 10/29/2007 6:35:10 PM ET 2007-10-29T22:35:10

An explosion and fire Monday at a chemical plant northeast of Des Moines sent plumes of thick smoke into the sky and forced firefighters to pull back for fears of more blasts.

Fire departments from throughout the Des Moines area responded to the fire. One worker suffered slight burns and was treated at the scene.

“Anybody with a fire truck is here,” said Neil Shultz, a spokesman for the Polk County sheriff’s department. “I think we’re going to be here a good long time.”

The explosion at the Barton Solvents plant was reported at 1:15 p.m., and nearly three hours later the fire was continuing to burn, said A.J. Mumm, coordinator for the Polk County Emergency Management Agency.

Flames and clouds of black smoke soared above the plant, and exploding barrels could be seen jetting into the sky. Mumm said 55-gallon barrels and 300-gallon tanks were exploding and that there were concerns about loaded rail cars and truck tanks on the site.

Police closed Interstates 80 and 235 near the fire.

“There is thick smoke, and they’re concerned drivers can’t see,” said Dena Gray-Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Transportation. “There’s also toxic fumes associated with chemicals, and they’re going to do some testing of the area.”

The smoke could be clearly seen from five miles away in downtown Des Moines, and the Federal Aviation Administration advised pilots to avoid the area because of poor visibility, said agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.

Barton Solvents Inc. is a wholesale distributor of industrial chemicals, oils and surfactants under the Barsol trade name. The Des Moines-based company has distribution facilities in Iowa, Kansas and Wisconsin.

An explosion at a Barton Solvents plant in Valley Center, Kan., in July prompted widespread evacuations in the community of about 6,000 people north of Wichita. Investigators have said it was caused by static electricity as workers filled a tank that contained a dry-cleaning product.

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