updated 5/29/2011 6:45:46 AM ET 2011-05-29T10:45:46

An explosion at a North Carolina chemical plant set off a multiple-alarm fire Saturday, sending thick black smoke into the air and forcing the evacuation of residents within two miles.

Firefighters in the town of Hudson responded to the explosion at the Chemical Coatings, Inc. plant in Caldwell County at around 3 p.m. Saturday, according to Jessica Carter, a county emergency spokeswoman. Other fire and emergency crews were then quickly dispatched.

The plant is closed weekends, Carter said, and no one is believed to have been inside when the explosion happened.

Two county firefighters were treated and released at a local hospital for minor injuries.

Caldwell County resident Sherry Thompson told The Charlotte Observer she was sitting on the back porch of her nearby home when she heard an explosion and then saw smoke coming from the plant.

"We could feel the heat from where we were at," she told the newspaper. "The house shook."

Authorities shut down U.S. 321 in front of the plant as firefighters from as far away as Charlotte, 70 miles away, battled the blaze into the evening. Evacuations were ordered as thick black smoke filled the air and was visible miles away. The Environmental Protection Agency, workplace safety officials and a state public health unit responded, and the Red Cross set up two temporary shelters. The fire was contained around 6 p.m. and the evacuation order was lifted around 9 p.m.

"It's not out and there's still some hot spots in the area, but they consider it manageable at this point," Carter told The Associated Press earlier Saturday evening.

Carter said authorities did not yet know the cause of the fire.

Chemical Coatings makes dyes, lacquers and other coatings for furniture and other products.

According to The Observer, Chemical Coatings was started in 1975 and became part of RPM International in 1991. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company in 2007 for violating rules governing guards on machinery and stairway rails, but it wasn't fined.

Hudson is located between Hickory and Lenoir, a corridor that is home to many furniture plants and showrooms as well as industries that support them.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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