UNION COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) — The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and several state agencies are assisting Union County officials with an explosion and subsequent fire at a biodiesel facility on Highway 15 just north of New Albany. The fire is still burning.
A second explosion involving another large storage tank occurred at about 12:40 p.m.
Union County Emergency Management Director Curt Clayton says two workers escaped without injuries at the time of the explosion around 6 a.m.
One home and two industrial businesses near the plant have been evacuated as a precaution. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has air monitoring teams in the area to test for hazardous materials that may leave the site, but have not detected anything at this time.
The explosion also affected a nearby power substation that caused a power outage to the Town of Blue Mountain and surrounding areas in Tippah County, including Blue Mountain College. Tippah County Emergency Management supplied generators to the area and the college to assist with caring for students and local residents. Power crews were able to restore electricity by noon.
Highway 15 will remain closed as emergency crews continue to work the scene. The Mississippi Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation are assisting local agencies with traffic.
Agencies responding to the incident include Union County Emergency Management, MHP, MDOT, MDEQ, Union County Sheriff’s Department, New Albany Police, Northaven Fire Department, Myrtle Fire Department, New Albany Fire Department, and United States Environmental Services.
The cause of explosion is under investigation.
First there was fire. Then residents near the JNS Biodiesel plant in Union County felt an explosion about 5:30 Wednesday morning.
Two employees were on the site when the fire began. Both escaped without injury.
Jim Staten lives about two miles from the site and he and his wife got a real wake-up call as they prepared for work this morning. First the lights flickered, followed in an instant by a loud, air-shaking boom.
“And so I immediately looked out the back door and the first thing I saw was the entire skyline was lit up. I didn’t actually see the fireball itself, but I knew something had gone horribly wrong. The house shook, the windows rattled, it was something you could feel,” Staten described.
No homeowners or businesses have been evacuated. But, troopers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol have set up a three mile perimeter, diverting traffic off of Mississippi Highway 15 North, north of New Albany.
That’s because the fire continues to burn. Chemicals at the plant prevent firefighters from using traditional methods of extinguishing the blaze. The decision has been made to allow the fire to burn itself out.
Experts on the scene anticipate that will take about 5 hours. Local firefighters will then go in and check for hotspots. Finally, the DEQ will follow up on site.
While non-threatening to other properties, hundreds of workers at other manufacturing plants in the area are unable to get to work. The area will remain cordoned off until fire investigators and the DEQ release the scene.
Traffic is re-directed to old Highway 15. Delays in the area can be expected.
JNS Biodiesel is a privately held company, founded in 2011.