Fire breaks out at industrial facility near Lake Charles after Hurricane Laura

Thursday, August 27, 2020
Massive smoke plume seen over Louisiana chemical plant fire
Smoke towered into the air over the facility near Lake Charles, Louisiana, hours after Hurricane Laura's landfall.

WESTLAKE, Louisiana -- A chemical plant in the middle of hurricane-ravaged southwest Louisiana caught fire Thursday morning, sending thick smoke containing poisonous chlorine billowing into the air.

SkyEye captured video of smoke billowing from the facility as fires burned. The smoke rolled north across I-10 coming from a facility. Officials at BioLab confirmed the fire was at their plant, according to KPLC-TV in Lake Charles.

Louisiana State Police spokesman Capt. Chavez Cammon said hazmat teams have responded and were attempting to put out the fire.

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Chlorine is a toxic chemical and can be deadly if inhaled. When chlorine is released, it quickly turns into a gas and spreads rapidly close to the ground, according to the CDC.

The gas can be recognized by its pungent, irritating odor, which is like the odor of bleach. The strong smell may provide adequate warning to people that they are exposed.

Exposure to chlorine may cause burning pain, blurred vision, and difficulty breathing, the CDC said.

BioLab manufactures chlorine-based products, according to a 2017 story on the company. The facility also makes trichloroisocynuric acid and other chemicals.

The BioLab facility is in an area that's home to dozens of chemical manufacturers and oil refineries.

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A shelter-in-place order was issued by the local emergency management authority there.

The fire happened as Interstate 10 was already closed from the Texas state line to the Atchafalaya Basin in south central Louisiana due to Hurricane Laura's impact on the region.

Calcasieu Parish Police Juror Joe Andrepont told KPLC-TV that drivers should not approach the area or the smoke. Residents who were nearby were told to close their doors and windows, turn off air conditioning and stay inside.

The fire happened as residents and fire responders were beginning a massive clean-up response to Hurricane Laura, which left the Lake Charles, Sulphur and Westlake areas severely damaged.