Small Fire Ignites at N.C. Chemical Plant

Emergency responders returned to a chemical plant in Apex on Wednesday after a small fire reignited on the site, but officials said there would be no evacuations.

The minor blaze, contained to one barrel, was under control, said Capt. Ann Stephens of the Apex Police Department.

"I don't know what started it or what caused it, but we are not evacuating anyone," Stephens said.

The chemical plant became a raging inferno two weeks ago with a fire that lit up the sky with explosions and covered parts of the town in a yellow-green haze. Town officials had urged as many as 17,000 people to evacuate. They cited potentially toxic fumes that had made a few dozen people seek medical attention.

More than 200 residents packed Apex Town Hall on Tuesday to ask for answers about the blaze.

Though EQ Industrial Services Co. officials have said tests found no harmful levels of toxins in the air after the Oct. 5 fire, residents wanted to know more about their vegetable gardens, their children's health and the quality of their air.

Some also asked whether the company will rebuild at the site — a prospect town officials said they'll do everything in their power to prevent.

"We cannot tolerate the continued operation of a hazardous-waste storage facility in Apex," Mayor Keith Weatherly said. "Let me just say our concern — and the point we will not forget — is that EQ has exposed our citizens to an unprecedented level of danger."

The company, based in Michigan, has said a decision about rebuilding in Apex won't be made until cleanup is complete.

State regulators say more tests will be conducted on the ground and water and they expect to release a report on air quality later this week.

But some residents said they don't know if it's safe to be living in their houses.

"How long is it going to take?" asked resident Tim Fornes. "I don't know what effect that residual has on my 9-month-old, my 3-year-old."

Apex resident Wolf Wendlandt said people everywhere should pay attention to the discussion of the fire's aftermath.

"We as the people of Apex are actually saying something not just to ourselves and the immediate community but to the whole state," Wendlandt said.

Also Tuesday, Gov. Mike Easley announced that a task force will examine regulations for hazardous waste storage centers and recommend changes to tighten those rules. The action is in response to the Apex incident.