An Athens business that sells large amounts of fertilizer erupted into flames on Thursday afternoon, leading to an evacuation of the downtown area as responders fought the flames.
No one was injured in the fire that was first reported at 5:43 p.m. at Ag Services on N. Underwood Street. The business is located three blocks from the Henderson County Courthouse.
As Athens Fire Department units arrived the building was already fully involved in flames. Witnesses reported seeing a plume of smoke miles from the enflamed building and the flames could be seen for several blocks. Officers from the Athens Police Department evacuated a five-block perimeter in all directions from the burning building.
County Judge Richard Sanders, who serves as Emergency Management Director for the county said at 7:35 p.m., the Emergency Management incident command center was being moved to a spot behind the county jail to get it further from the fire.
“At this point they’re going to let it burn out,” Sanders said. “The fire was at such a level when the Athens Fire Department got on the scene there was nothing to do but to back off. I hope and pray that everyone does what they’re supposed to do and we get out of this without anyone getting hurt.”
Athens Fire Chief John McQuearey set up his command post at the corner of Tyler and Pinkerton Streets. As of 8 p.m. , the large Quint ladder truck and other units stood by in case the fire should unexpectedly start to spread.
Until the deadly explosion and fire in West, Texas, in April 2013, businesses storing ammonium nitrate around the state operated without getting much attention. For years, tons of ammonium nitrate have been transported each week to and from storage at the Ag Services location.
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