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Fire investigators still searching for what caused chemical fire at Lee’s Summit plant

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Investigators are trying to determine what caused a chemical fire at a plant here Wednesday.

Witnesses reported the fire at C.K. Enterprises on Southwest Jefferson Street just after 8 a.m.

Workers at the plant may have been transferring a flammable liquid from an outside storage tank when the fire started.

Flames quickly consumed that tank, sending thick, black smoke up into the sky that could be seen for miles around.

The owner of the plant, Charlie Kunkel, did not want to appear on camera but told FOX 4 that about 60 workers all escaped the building safely by the time firefighters arrived.

Kunkel says one worker did suffer burns to his arm. Paramedics took him to the hospital for treatment.

Firefighters say anytime you're dealing with chemicals, they must take some extra precautions.

"What we understand is that they were initially working with a winter fuel additive and that is believed to be the product initially involved," said Assistant Chief Jim Eden of the Lee's Summit Fire Department. "We do know we have at least six tanks that were consumed that are on site. Those involve various acids, bases, alcohols and other hydrocarbons."

The fire never reached the plant itself. It was contained to the outdoor storage area.

Kunkel says the storage tanks are surrounded by concrete exactly for this reason, to keep a fire contained, should flammable material ignite. After more than an hour battling the blaze, about 35 firefighters on the scene finally knocked down the flames.

But because of the thick smoke, there was some concern about toxins spreading through the air. Eden says air monitoring shows the fire was completely burning the chemicals.

"During the incident we did have air monitoring going on off site," Eden said "We did have one school sheltered in place: Lee’s Summit Christian Academy, a primary and secondary education facility. We're trying to alleviate everyone’s concerns as far as contaminants going off site."

Fire investigators now will examine how the blaze started, looking at the actions of workers, storage of products on site and other materials that may have been involved.