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Eglin Air Force Base Warns to Steer Clear of Smoke After Explosion

A billowing tower of black smoke filled the sky above Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle after an explosion rocked the McKinley Climatic Laboratory on Wednesday morning.

“A little bit before 10 a.m. an explosion occurred at McKinley Climatic Lab,” Eglin Air Force Base spokesman Ilka Cole told NBC News. “A 1,000-foot cordon has been established and the surrounding area has been evacuated.”

Image: Heavy smoke billows from a building at Eglin Air Force Base
Heavy smoke billows from a building at Eglin Air Force Base following an explosion at McKinley Climatic Lab on July 5, 2017. Timothy Knox

The base said that the source of the explosion and smoke could contain methyl chloride, and warned people nearby to steer clear of it.

A shelter in place order was announced and area residents were told to turn off their HVAC systems. The smoke had dissipated a few hours later and both orders were lifted, the base said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

Methyl chloride is used on the base in testing silicone and other equipment. According to the EPA, even short-term exposure to the chemical can cause severe neurological effects, and organ and nerve damage.

The fire occurred in a support building near McKinley Climate Lab. The fire occurred in "close proximity" of the chemical, the statement said.

Eglin Air Force Base said no "significant injuries" had been reported. The site of the explosion is not near the housing area of the base.

Local first responders were on the scene. The explosion is currently under investigation.

Image: Ford tests models in extreme cold temperatures at the McKinley Climatic Laboratory
Ford tests models of their vehicles in extreme cold temperatures at the McKinley Climatic Laboratory in August 2015. Nick Tomecek / Northwest Florida Daily News via AP file

The lab is on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to a climatic chamber where testing has been conducted on all military aircraft since 1947. Any climate environment can be simulated within the lab, according to the lab’s website.

Private companies, such as American automakers and military contractors, also use the chamber to test their products.

Temperatures can range between -65 degrees Fahrenheit and 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and the chamber can also simulate snow, rain wind, sand and dust.