Gov. Haley to visit Hartsville fire site

Source: Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington
Source: Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington
Source: WMBF
Source: WMBF

HARTSVILLE, SC (WIS) - Governor Nikki Haley will be visiting Hartsville Wednesday to meet with area officials to discuss their needs after Monday's devastating fertilizer plant fire.

Spokesperson Rob Godfrey said Governor Haley will be in Hartsville around 1:40 p.m. to meet with officials.

It is unknown at this time how long the governor will be in the area.

The fire, which started Monday evening, is still burning at the Agrium Fertilizer Plant on South 4th Street in Hartsville. The plant and at least one house were destroyed.

Representatives from the Department of Heath and Environmental Control have made two visits to Hartsville after concerns over air quality.

Officials are still encouraging people to be cautious and limit their exposure to the smoke as the fire continues to smolder.

According to spokesman Jim Beasley, DHEC placed 4 air quality monitors around Hartsville to collect data and analyze the quality of the air.  DHEC also did some initial testing during the early morning hours Tuesday, but found no threats to public health.  New concerns over a color change in the smoke coming from the fire prompted DHEC to make a return trip.

Lt. Brian Rudick, spokesman for the Hartsville Police Department, says firefighters remain in "containment mode" following the massive fire. Rudick adds that law enforcement has scaled back its efforts to the perimeter of the scene.

Rudick said when firefighters got to the scene, the plant was already fully involved with fire. Part of the Sonoco Products Company also caught fire, Rudick said. 

According to Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington, the Sonoco plant halted production overnight to send their own resources to help in the containment of the blaze. He said production was expected to pick back up around 7:00 a.m. Tuesday.

Witnesses say they saw a large fireball in the area Monday night, and all emergency services in Darlington County were called to the scene as well as firefighters from Sumter, Conway, Florence, and Columbia.

Initially residents reported hearing explosions, but crews determined the loud noises people heard were pressurized containers.

During the height of the fire, all roads in the immediate area were blocked. The fire caused severe traffic issues, and authorities continue to ask the public to avoid the Fifth Street area around the lake, as well as Society Avenue and Lakeview Boulevard Tuesday morning.

Emergency services evacuated homes on Society Avenue and all the 'alphabet streets' in Hartsville and sent evacuees to the gymnasium at Byerly Park.

Angela Nichols of the Horry County Chapter of the American Red Cross said the Red Cross sent three volunteers to assist with a shelter at the T.B. Thomas Sports Center on Washington Street.

73 people made their way to the shelter. The Red Cross also provided food to 200 people, including first responders at the scene, according to a spokesperson.  Since Monday, the Red Cross has served 520 meals, and continues to provide food as need to responders at the scene.

The Red Cross provided additional emergency assistance to a family of three that lost their home when the plant exploded causing embers to spread to their home.

At daybreak Tuesday, the Department of Environmental Protection began assisting DHEC with taking water samples from Prestwood Lake. Officials have determined that no drinking water is pulled directly from the lake. It is still not clear what chemicals were present in the plant at the time of the blaze.

Fire officials think the fire started near an employee break room. There were fewer than 10 people working at the time. There were no injuries.

The building is a total loss, meaning the area has lost one of its major industries. Agrium has 50 to 60 employees in Hartsville.

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