AFFTON, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- A firefighter was injured and hundreds of people were evacuated after a massive fire at Manor Chemicals plant Thursday afternoon.
The Affton plant, located in the 6900 block of Heege Road near Tower Tee, had a fire break out around 2:30, and it quickly grew until smoke could be seen for miles. Officials on the scene said the mushroom cloud was 400 feet in the air. Police said when crews first arrived they saw up to 10 different chemicals involved, a tanker truck and the structure itself. All employees were evacuated and none of them were injured. By the time firefighters had foam on the fire, the call moved up to a 4-alarm. Preliminary reports show the fire could've started from an electrical short or static electricity.
"I heard a couple of booms, not earth-shattering but you felt them," Richard Garcia said.
St. Louis County police issued an evacuation order just before 4 p.m. to all residents within a half mile of the fire. The evacuation was lifted at 7 p.m. The St. Louis City Fire Department dispatched chemical units to the scene, and the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) confirmed chemicals leaked into the sewer system and they sent their environmental hazard team to the scene. MSD later cleared the sewer lines. The Department of Natural Resources blocked off some streams for more evaluation.
Officials said 13 different departments responded with 62 trucks with a couple hundred firefighters. It took crews an hour and a half of active fire fighting to get it under control and the fire was finally extinguished around 5:15 p.m. The building was completely destroyed.
"This was the first time that I had ever used drone technology, and it gave us a tremendous advantage because with the help of the workers that were here, they were able to tell us from looking at the drone video that containers empty this was full," Chief Nike Fahs with the Affton Fire Protection District said.
The scene will remain active for several hours as first responders work to decontaminate anyone who was in the hazardous smoke. One firefighter was injured on the scene and taken to an area hospital. Officials said he's expected to be okay.
"This little fire department in Affton, we could never have handled that. If we would not have had those 62 trucks there, it would have been catastrophic," Fahs said.
St. Louis County's hazmat team was monitoring drone footage on the scene and helped navigate fire crews. University City and Mehlville provided the drones. "If [the drones] wouldn't have been over the top of us, we would have not known that you have a window that you could do some attack and you save half that facility so it was the first time ever we used them."
Manor Chemicals has been in business since 1972, and according to their website, service "Automotive Aftermarket Companies, Dry Cleaners, Paint & Coatings Industry, and Industrial Manufacturing." According to federal health officials, those products are capable of causing respiratory irritation, headaches or nausea.
The head of the St. Louis Regional Response Systems watched the blaze closely, and, as someone who has worked in numerous hazmat situations, said the biggest challenge for firefighters on scene is controlling the fire without risking further chemical eruptions.
"You put chemicals under fire and there's a lot of chemicals that react violently and that's concerning," Gregg Favre said. "Those tanks are designed to withstand a lot. They're designed to be hit and to sustain a significant amount of damage ... but when something gets too hot, it explodes and that energy has to go somewhere and you have to be at a reasonable distance."
Affton School District is held all students at schools and postponed dismissal due to the fire, but students were able to go home before 5 p.m.
"I heard three booms. They were pretty decent booms and I was just hoping that everybody was okay," a student we talked to said.
Heege road is shut down from MacKenzie to Laclede Station Road and people are urged to avoid the area if possible. Multiple videos were sent to News 4 showing black smoke billowing from the building.