Previous report by state fire marshal now part of Athens fertili - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Previous report by state fire marshal now part of Athens fertilizer fire investigation

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Mounds of chemicals remain on the site of what was the East Texas Ag storage building in downtown Athens. (Source: KLTV Staff) Mounds of chemicals remain on the site of what was the East Texas Ag storage building in downtown Athens. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Tarps covered areas of chemicals to protect them from running off with passing rain showers Monday, June 2 in Athens. (Source: KLTV Staff) Tarps covered areas of chemicals to protect them from running off with passing rain showers Monday, June 2 in Athens. (Source: KLTV Staff)
An investigator with the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office inspects a piece of debris from the East Texas Ag Supply storage building. (Source: KLTV Staff) An investigator with the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office inspects a piece of debris from the East Texas Ag Supply storage building. (Source: KLTV Staff)
An investigator with the State Fire Marshal's Office takes photographs from atop an Athens Fire Rescue quint unit at the scene of the May 2014 fertilizer fire. (Source: KLTV Staff) An investigator with the State Fire Marshal's Office takes photographs from atop an Athens Fire Rescue quint unit at the scene of the May 2014 fertilizer fire. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Flags mark progress from investigators as they combed through the East Texas Ag Supply building. (Source: KLTV Staff) Flags mark progress from investigators as they combed through the East Texas Ag Supply building. (Source: KLTV Staff)
ATHENS, TX (KLTV) - Investigators with the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office said they previously inspected the site of the May 29 fire that destroyed an East Texas fertilizer supply building.

The building was owned by the railroad, according to the City of Athens, but has been leased to East Texas Ag Supply for several decades. The building was destroyed in a May 29 fire that forced hundreds to evacuate a five block radius around the building.

Investigators from local, state and federal agencies have been on the scene since the Thursday fire. They classified the fire as "undetermined" since they were not able to find out what sparked the fire or what caught fire first inside the building.

The materials were covered with tarps to protect the chemical that remained on site from running off from the property during passing rain showers on Monday. 

As investigators wrapped up the first phase of their investigation, they used one of the first responding units, an Athens Fire Rescue truck, to take overhead views of the site.

State officials say the fire in Athens serves as a reminder that in the aftermath of the West, Texas, fertilizer fire and explosion, more still needs to be done in Austin.

"It doesn't change the plan," said State Rep. Joe Pickett, a democrat from El Paso, who chairs the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety. "I think it just makes it that more important."

Pickett's committee has held hearings in the months following the incident in West, and plans to continue research in what can be done to give state and local officials the power they need to inspect facilities storing ammonium nitrate. After the West explosion, the fire marshal's office performed voluntary checks on facilities across the state but has no authority to require such checks.

"The State Fire Marshal's Office does not have authority to go in and investigate locations, but has done it and has had some pretty good success," said Rep. Pickett. 

Texas Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner confirmed the Athens site was inspected at least once in their check of facilities across the state following the 2013 West explosion.

KLTV has requested a copy of that inspection performed by the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office. Originally we were told the request would be denied due to homeland security exemptions, but are now told the inspection is exempt because it is being used in the active investigation into the May 2014 fire at East Texas Ag Supply in Athens.

Officials with the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office would also not say if the estimate has changed regarding how much and what kind of chemicals were being stored inside the building at the time of the fire.

Athens city officials said they expect to get a full briefing from their fire department about the fire. From there, they will look at any action that may need to be taken on the local level in response to this fire.

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