Flames were rolling out of third story windows as the first El Campo volunteer firefighters arrived at the burning Nan Ya Plastics facility in Wharton Sunday night.
Two chiefs, the “Texas Top Gun” also known as the department’s tower ladder truck, an engine and 14 other volunteers scrambled eastward when the call for help came in at 7:51 p.m. Sunday night. Wharton and other eastside volunteer departments were already locked into the fight.
“When I first arrived (at 8:05 p.m.), it was mostly on the east side, there was heavy fire coming from the upper floors and dark smoke,” El Campo Volunteer Fire Chief Jimmy George Jr. said.
Linking to an East Bernard VFD pumper, El Campo tower set up in an alleyway and quickly got into the fight along with Wharton’s tower as George was asked to set up a command center near the facility’s office and direct units.
The El Campo engine wasn’t needed, but its crew joined Glen Flora volunteers in making sure the blaze didn’t extend to other buildings on the site at the intersection of FM 102 and U.S. 59.
Until the heavy flames were beaten down, fire crews stayed on the outside of the buildings battering them with high-powered blasts from hoses.
Firefighters ultimately made entry into lower floors of the plant, safety concerns over degraded metal keeping them out of the top levels.
Boling VFD’s foam truck ultimately put out the basement blaze.
“It was a good collaborative effort. It worked out great. The firefighters did a great job in stopping the progress (of the fire),” George said. “I hope the citizens understand how they worked great together.”
Nan Ya officials had already evacuated the building, he added, and worked closely with firefighters to help locate power and gas lines that needed to be shut down and provide information crucial to the effort. “Mr. Wall and his staff were instrumental,” George said.
No firefighter injuries were reported and no plant staff were hurt.
El Campo VFD trucks returned to service at 1:01 a.m. the next morning.
During the Wharton blaze, Louise volunteer firefighters had garrisoned the El Campo station along with six local firefighters, there just in case another call came in.
“We were fortunate there were no other calls,” George said.
El Campo VFD’s 25-year-old tower truck performed well throughout the fight on the NanYa grounds, George said. “For about three hours straight, the truck was under quite a bit of strain, but it worked good ... It’s a damn good truck.”
The ladder and other components of the unit, however, near or at the end of their life expectancy. The El Campo public will be asked to decide in May whether they will fund a new unit.