West's Blast Brings Back Memories of Bryan's Chemical Fire

It's been nearly four years since we experienced a chemical fire in our own backyard.

The fire at the El Dorado chemical plant in Bryan thankfully didn't reach the level of West, but Wednesday's incident brought back memories of a memorable day in our area.

The scenes are eerily similar: a plume of poisonous smoke rising above a Texas community. For the City of Bryan, July 2009's fire at the El Dorado chemical plant didn't reach unthinkable levels like West, but when you evacuate tens of thousands, it's easy to look back.

Thursday, they were looking forward in the Community Emergency Operations Center in Bryan. Every year, area agencies have to go through drills on big incidents, and one was . At least three are required annually, but Brazos County tries to do a lot more.

"You have a lot of different jurisdictions, a lot of different agencies, and they all have to do exercises," said Chuck Frazier, the emergency management coordinator for Brazos County. He and his colleagues' call was to get every Bryan resident out of the city as the chemical smoke spread over the city.

"The problem with El Dorado was the size of the evacuation area, and you can kind of see from (Wednesday) night why they went big instead of small," Frazier said. "There was a lot of potential for a lot of damage there."

A welding accident caused the El Dorado fire.

The biggest differences between Bryan's blaze and West's incident were the big boom of West -- there was no explosion in Bryan in 2009 -- and the big number of victims. There were no casualties in Bryan, just some respiratory issues.

"If we would have had an incident here where we had as many casualties as they had in West (Wednesday) night, we would have the same issues," Frazier said. "We would not have the resources in our county to take care of that. We wouldn't even be close. We would have to bring in a lot of outside help."

Because El Dorado was a bit further removed from the more populated parts of Bryan, had that plant exploded, we might not have seen the same devastation. We definitely would have seen an EOC in action, definitely not just a drill that would prepare officials for anything.

"Given what they had there, I'm sure they did the best they could do," Frazier said, adding that what he had seen in the aftermath was quality work from first responders.

The incident commander for the El Dorado fire was Bryan Fire Department Lieutenant Eric Wallace, one of the two firefighters who died in the fire at the Knights of Columbus hall earlier this year.


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