Massive fire forces biodiesel plant, homes to evacuate

Massive fire forces biodiesel plant, homes to evacuate
Fire at biodiesel plant (Source: Chopper 5)
Fire at biodiesel plant (Source: Chopper 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A massive fire at a biodiesel plant in Orange Mound forced the evacuation of workers and people who live nearby.

Methanol leaked from a tank at the biodiesel plant, called BioEnergy Development Group. Methanol is a flammable liquid used to make biodiesel. Fire crews said it was the methanol that caught fire first.

"It's a flammable gas, a highly flammable gas that is used to make biodiesel. That biodiesel is sold to diesel companies," said Wayne Cooke, MFD.

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It took fire crews nearly 1.5 hours to bring the fire under control. Crews said it was a difficult fire to fight, because it was located between tanks of methanol.

About 50 employees were in the biodiesel plant when the fire alarm went off. All those employees made it out safely. Employees said they go through extensive safety training and had recently went over safety procedures to follow in the event of a fire.

Police helped evacuate homes near the plant, because there was a fear the fire could spread or even explode. Fire crews were also concerned about the amount of smoke wafting into the nearby neighborhood.

The plant is also near Magnolia Elementary School. The school's principal sent a note to parents because students are being kept inside the school. Smoke from the fire filled the air outside the school and delayed dismissal.

Nobody was injured during the fire and everyone living near the plant has been allowed back into their homes.

Investigators are now trying to figure out what caused the Methanol tank to leak.

The facility where the fire sparked is a multi-feedstock plant that produces biodiesel from vegetable oil, animal fat, and used cooking oil.

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