Thomas Residents Face Uncertain Future After Plant Explosion
THOMAS, Oklahoma - Residents in the small town of Thomas in Custer County are still rattled after a huge chemical plant explosion Wednesday night.
Several residents evacuated homes nearby the plant, Danlin Industries Corp., which happens to be the town's largest employer.
"Everybody knows somebody that's employed there. It's like watching your own home burn down," said Jamie King, a Thomas resident and managing editor of the Thomas Tribune.
King lives a mile away from the plant and said the explosion was frightening.
"There was thick black smoke, it was so dark and heavy," King said. "It was exploding back to back."
The Danlin plant produces chemicals used in oilfields. It's a family-owned company named after its founders Danny and Linda Floyd, who started the business in the early 1990s that later blossomed to offices in seven states.
All of its nearly 70 employees were gone by the time of the explosion. The last employee is said to have left around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, hours before fire broke out before 10 p.m. Because of the hazardous chemicals, firefighters didn't try to put flames out from inside the plant.
"We didn't fight this fire at all. We just let it burn. It was too intense, too dangerous to get close to," said Warren Manley of Thomas Emergency Management.
While damage from the chemical explosion is still visible, the effects of the explosion on the town has residents worried.
"This was the worst case scenario for a town of our size," said Harold Gleason, publisher of the Thomas Tribune. "They employ so many people here. They're like our own. Their names are on the scoreboard of our football field."
The city of Thomas has about 1,200 people. Residents are hopeful the company will rebuild the plant after its devastating loss.
Gleason said the owners are assessing the situation and trying to continue operations at a temporary office in another location. He said the mayor, city council and economic developers have offered to help the Danlin rebuild.
"It was just more than you can comprehend to see the entire structure and just humongous explosions and billowing flames all the way through," Gleason said. "And to see it in the daylight, see the full effect of it, it just really takes your breath away."
Firefighters reported no injuries and say it could at least two days before the plant cools down completely.
Part of highway 47, which runs along the plant, is closed until Friday morning. Drivers traveling to Thomas are asked to take highway 33. OSHA is also investigating the cause of the explosion. Danlin does not have any prior OSHA violations.