‘3-mile plume of toxic smoke’: VC Sheriff declares emergency in wake of SCWW blasts, fires

November 27, 2014
Santa Paula News

BREAKING NEWS: Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean has declared a local emergency in the November 18 chemical explosions and fires that occurred at Santa Clara Waste Water in an unincorporated area of Santa Paula. 

 The explosions on Mission Rock Road left dozens injured and is still the scene of sample gathering as officials from county, state and federal agencies try to discover just what ignited — and why.

In his written report to the Board, Dean notes that after the initial explosion of a vacuum truck — which occurred at 3:45 a.m. — the “incident evolved into a disaster,” by about 8:30 a.m. “when additional materials began to burn and explode, which resulted in a three-mile plume of toxic smoke.”

The second explosion caused the closure of Highway 126 from Wells Road to Peck Road for hours and caused an evacuation of those within one mile of the facility; those within three miles of the evacuation perimeter were asked to shelter in place including Todd Road Jail just west of the blast where vents were closed and air-conditioning shut off.

The incident threatened to overwhelm Ventura County Medical Center where the Emergency Room had to be closed due to the fumes carried by those near the blast that affected even medical workers. Decontamination tents already placed for possible Ebola patients were utilized as more and more people sought treatment for breathing problems, itchy eyes, coughing and sore throats. Two workers present at the scene of first explosion were hospitalized. 

The resolution notes that “conditions of disaster and extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the County of Ventura have arisen as a result of a hazardous materials release and exposure harming dozens of people,” the number has since risen to 52, including three Santa Paula Firefighters and seven other first responders, “and prompting an evacuation of an area near Santa Paula.”

The incident, notes Dean’s report, created “extreme peril to people and property,” which led to the declaration of a local emergency. 

According to Jim Wada, Ventura County Environmental Health Hazardous Waste section supervisor, as of Wednesday, November 26, officials were “still gathering samples on information,” but the “cleanup phase” has not yet begun pending results of testing of the facility and its grounds.

The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation last week and served warrants Friday related to same.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and the California Department of Public Health as well as Ventura County personnel and the Agricultural Commissioner’s office are working the incident along with Ventura County Fire and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. 

The Board of Supervisors had a regularly scheduled meeting the day of the explosion and had a holiday break this week.

Dean will present the report and proclamation to the Board of Supervisors in their hearing room Tuesday, December 2; his presentation is agenized for 9:30 a.m. at the Ventura County Government Center, 800 E. Victoria Ave., Ventura.

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