ANTHONY, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico biofuel facility caught fire Tuesday, sending a giant column of black smoke into the air and prompting authorities to briefly evacuate an area that includes about 350 homes.
A series of small explosions was reported at the Rio Valley Biofuels plant near the town of Anthony, but there was no immediate word of any injuries, Dona Ana County spokesman Jess Williams said. Operations manager Jed Smith said he believed all five employees who work at the plant were OK.
County officials activated their emergency operations center and declared a hazardous materials emergency, Williams said. The immediate area was evacuated, but residents were allowed back in to their homes by early afternoon.
Anthony is on the New Mexico-Texas line between Las Cruces, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.
Witnesses described hearing loud explosions and seeing large flames as fire trucks and emergency responders rushed to the scene.
"We heard a few explosions, then a really loud one," witness Miguel Favela said. "You could hear the fire burning."
The fire was first reported shortly after 9 a.m. A Rio Valley Biofuels manager said about 2½ hours later that it was "basically out — smoldering." Crews were still dousing the site with water several hours after the accident.