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Chemical Fire Sends People Fleeing

May 7, 2007 |

Questions remained Monday night after a chemical fire broke out earlier in the day near the airport. The fire started at Lawrence Tile and Marble Company in the 1700 block of Lochearn. One Memphis firefighter suffered breathing problems, but is okay.

The smoke could be seen from Downtown Memphis.
Employees said a tanker unloading the chemical resin spilled and sparked the fire. Resin is used to make tubs and counter tops. However, fire investigators have not officially confirmed the cause of the fire.

Workers inside Lawrence Tile say hallways were filled with smoke and there was a lot of confusion. None of the workers were injured.

Lawrence Tile and Marble is at the end of a road mainly occupied by businesses. While many companies were not officially evacuated, the fear of a chemical explosion sent people running.

Businesses and their employees were worried about the many tanker trucks in the area once the fire started. Though the fire department said the chemical inside the truck posed no health hazard, some people in the area said it was better to be safe than sorry.

Secretary Dawn Gilreath said when she heard there was a fire at her work, she packed up and went for the door. With a chemical tanker truck used by the company parked outside the burning building, she quickly spread the word.
"Running out trying to let everyone know on the street that we had a fire and they needed to leave too," said Gilreath.

Under a black sky and fearing an explosion, Gilreath said she started knocking on nearby doors. Around that time, employees of EnviroRem happened to see a crowd of people moving down the street.
"Just about that time a police officer pulled up and asked us to vacate the area because of the fire going," Project Manager Charles Powell said.

Powell said he and others gathered on the corner, getting pushed back at least once because of spreading smoke. Despite the flames though, the truck never ignited. The fire department said the tile company's chemicals were not hazardous and the only mandated evacuation was a preschool.
"The other businesses were actually told to protect in place. Keep the doors and windows closed," said Fire Marshall Ronald Brown.

The fire burned for more than an hour and fire crews battled hot spots throughout the day.

The damage looks extensive, but Dawn Gilreath took comfort in the escape to safety she and others took.
"We have a fire escape route in place and they did exactly what they're supposed to," said Gilreath.

People working in the area were out of their offices for about two and a half hours. Many of the children at the preschool were picked up by their parents.

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