A major explosion on Tuesday night burned down about half of a chemical plant in Lujhu Township (蘆竹), Taoyuan County, as firefighters battled the flames for more than five hours before bringing the blaze under control.
The fire started at the manufacturing complex of TNC Industrial Co (台硝化工公司).
As the inferno spread, it ignited spectacular fireball explosions, some as high as 10-story buildings. Fearing for their lives, many residents rushed out of their houses and ran to safety.
“The whole place was on fire and burning red hot. The flames kept getting higher and higher,” a resident said.
The fire became a major concern for the authorities as the plant is only 3km from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Fortunately, no flights were affected, but the proximity of the plant allowed some flight passengers to capture the fire and the explosions on their cameras.
A total of 150 firefighters and 55 fire engines from 30 different units were dispatched to contain the blaze. It was eventually extinguished at about 4am yesterday.
A firefighting unit spokesperson said the fire likely started at a storage area, and as the plant produces nitrocellulose and other flammable materials, the flames quickly spread to engulf much of the facility.
A preliminary survey found that the fire and explosions had destroyed about half of the plant, with the cost of the damage put at about NT$15 million (US$500,000).
As the company had registered stockpiles of methyl isobutyl ketone and other toxic chemicals, the Taoyuan County Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) sent its Hazardous Incident Response Unit to provide support.
The unit later reported air quality in the area was still within acceptable limits.
Another official said although half of the plant was destroyed, the rest of the facility was still operational. However, an investigation is to be conducted to determine if the company was at fault and if there are found to have been serious violations a shut-down order could be issued against TNC Industrial.