New Mexico biofuels plant suffers fire, explosions

A Rio Valley Biofuels plant in Anthony, New Mexico, caught fire and experienced a series of small explosions on Tuesday, sending a column of black smoke into the air and prompting authorities to briefly evacuate the local area, including about 350 homes.

According to the Associated Press, a series of small explosions were reported at the plant, which produces biodiesel for businesses and farmers in southern New Mexico. There was no immediate word of any injuries.

Operations manager Jed Smith said he believed all five employees who work at the plant were OK, according to the Associated Press report.

County officials activated their emergency operations center and declared a hazardous materials emergency, according to reports. Residents were allowed back into their homes by early afternoon.

The town of Anthony is near the New Mexico-Texas border between Las Cruces, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.

Company officials said the cause of the fire was not yet known. Witnesses described hearing loud explosions and seeing large flames as fire trucks and emergency responders rushed to the scene.

Local authorities said the half-mile area around the plant was evacuated because of the threat of explosions from methanol being stored on the premises. Other chemicals on the site include vegetable oil, hydrochloric acid and biodiesel.

According to the Rio Valley Biofuels website, the plant produces between 3,000 and 6,000 gal/day of biodiesel. Commercial production began in 2006 from recycled oil from local food processors.

County hazardous-materials specialists are expected to inspect the site further on Wednesday to determine what chemicals may hav ebeen affected or released in the fire, according to the Associated Press story.

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