Close call averted at Higginsville plant

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HIGGINSVILLE, Mo. -- "On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate this fire?"

That's the question FOX 4's Robert Townsend asked Higginsville Fire Chief Kevin Warren as several dozen firefighters from the volunteer organization, Marshall, Lexington and Porter battled a stubborn, chemical fire at the MFA Fertilizer Plant on Tuesday.

"Well, I would say for a couple of hours it was probably a 10," said Chief Warren. "The big challenge was getting all that sulfur out of the bin. We had to get down to where some charred plywood was."

Just after 11 o'clock Tuesday morning the Higginsville Fire Department received a 911 call about a chemical fire inside a warehouse at the longtime fertilizer plant.

From the beginning firefighters had to carefully handle the scene because they didn't want lots of sulfur inside the building to mix with dust, which could've ignited an explosion.

Investigators say before the fire broke out, contractors were inside the plant's warehouse, apparently trying using a cutting torch to break up a chain.

"There was a company there, contractors, doing routine maintenance there. At this time we're not sure if that ignited the fire. The cause is still under investigation, " said Chief Warren. No one from MFA wanted to talk to FOX 4 about the fire.

Chief Warren said three hours after MFA employees used backhoes to move loads of sulfur across the street, firefighters spotted another problem inside the warehouse: burning wood.

"At that point, we did see some flame, but got it under control quickly," added the Fire Chief.

One firefighter with the Higginsville Volunteer Fire Department, overcome by sulfur fumes, was treated, released from the hospital and back on the job helping his comrades clean up the mess.

Five hours after the close call, firefighters pulled out and workers at a junkyard next door were breathing a big sigh of relief.

"Two of my employees say they watched the workers over there haul lots of sulfur across the street, trying to get it into a safe manner, so it didn't go boom, " said John Jungeblut.



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