By Matt Ledesma
The Times Record News
WICHITA FALLS, Texas — A four-alarm fire at the old Saint Gobain Vetrotex America plant — formerly known as Certainteed — brought in all active and off-duty firefighters to battle the blaze Wednesday afternoon.
City officials said the fire was mostly contained by about 2:30 p.m., with firefighters already inside the building being pulled out to debrief information and re-establish their tactics.
About an hour earlier, an employee working at the plant had first reported the fire.
Within about an hour, 60 men and 20 engines had responded to the scene in the 4500 block of Allendale Road.
Several Wichita Falls police units and county sheriff's deputies also were there to block entrances to the plant.
A huge wall of black smoke pouring from the building billowed into the sky.
The smoke was visible from miles away and at first thought to possibly be full of hazardous toxins.
Barry Levy, city public information officer, said the city's Code Red phone service was employed to residents within one-square mile of the smoke, but only to assure residentss the fumes were found to be nontoxic.
"All the toxic chemicals have already been removed from plant (before the fire started)," Levy said.
"There are some very small remnants of liquid oxygen, propane and gasoline, but not enough to endanger anyone."
Levy said none of the employees and no firefighters were injured during the fire — which started in the back of plant and reached several levels of the building.
Officials believed it started when a spark from tools used to dismantle the building ignited some nearby materials.
The former Saint Gobain complex is now owned by a partnership of Wichita Falls businessmen.
Saint-Gobain announced in March of 2008 that it was closing the Saint-Gobain Vetrotex America plant here, leaving 720 employees out of work, along with the loss of a $4.3 million monthly payroll.
Olivier Duval, the director of strategy for the group, came to Wichita Falls to announce the closing and said Saint-Gobain sold its reinforcement and composites businesses to Owens-Corning in 2007.
But the Wichita Falls plant was excluded from the sale for antitrust considerations, which he said was the major factor that led to the decision to close the 787,000-square-foot plant, which sits on 330 acres on the west side of Wichita Falls.
The plant was the city's 11th-largest civilian employer when it shut down. Saint-Gobain Vetrotex America came to Wichita Falls in 1977.
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