Fertilizer plant fire may cause chemical smoke hazard, residents near Moses Lake advised to shelter in place

Firefighters stand near a pile of gray rubble as smoke billows upward.
Battalion Chief Horst says the smoke is clearing out and the crew is gaining better visibility of the facility. The shelter in place order for residents within a mile of the facility will remain in effect until further notice. (Grant County Sheriff's Office)


While the fire is now contained, smoke is still billowing from the ruins of a Wilbur-Ellis fertilizer plant near Moses Lake. And that smoke could be toxic. Correspondent Lauren Paterson has more.

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Little remains of a Wilbur-Ellis building that caught fire Sunday afternoon southeast of Moses Lake, Washington. 

While the fire is no longer a risk to the public, Battalion Chief for Grant County Fire Dist. #5, Robert Horst, said the smoke is still an issue and could be full of toxic chemicals. 

“The unfortunate part of this time of year is that it’s so cool that you get that inversion and so at nighttime that smoke is going to be trapped in and not able to get out into the atmosphere,” Horst said.

There are concerns that the smoke still billowing from the ruins could contain noxious chemicals that irritate the airways, lungs, and eyes, said Lexi Smith, Communications Coordinator for Grant County Public Health.

“So if you’re near that area, and you have respiratory issues, then we would advise to stay inside or limit your outside activity, just to kind of avoid any irritants within the throat,” Smith said. “We don’t know what’s in the smoke yet.”

Horst says as the smoke clears, the fire marshal will be able to investigate the cause of the fertilizer plant fire, and assess what chemicals are in the air.

Grant County Emergency Management has issued a shelter in place for residents within one-mile of the facility. The advisory remains in effect until further notice.

Horst said everything is contained on site and there shouldn’t be issues with cleanup efforts. The facility was unmanned at the time of the incident, and there were no casualties or injuries.

Updates will be posted to the Grant County Emergency Management’s website.