By Allan Jamail
GALENA PARK, TX — May 8, 2021 — Early Saturday morning, according to Tom Ehlers, Galena Park’s (GP) Fire Chief, his department responded to a report of a vessel on fire at Andersons Mills in the Port of Houston in the 1500 South Main Street.
Andersons Mills is grain storage and exporting facility used to load ships with various types of grain. Grain dust is highly combustible and when the micro-particles reach a high density level a small spark can set off a gigantic explosion.
Chief Ehlers said when his Fire Engine 1 arrived, the crew found heavy smoke coming from a grain loader, which takes grain from the storage silos via a conveyor where it is dumped into a ship’s cargo hull. On the dock is a tall crane with a large hose attached that extends out over the ship’s deck where the grain is fed into the hull openings. It appeared the fire was coming from the hose. The smart, quick-thinking crane operator swung the crane and burning hose away from the ship’s open cargo bays, preventing the fire from spreading into the ship.
“GP firefighters pulled 500 feet of 3 inch hose down the dock and used additional 200 feet of 1 3/4″ hose to attack the fire from the central tower nearly 5 stories above the water. Their efforts kept the fire from reaching the dust collection system on the central tower. These efforts prevented what would have been a catastrophic explosion. One Galena Park firefighter injured his leg and was transported to the hospital. He is expected to make a full recovery. The City of Houston Fire Department responded with a full box assignment and the Port of Houston Fire Department responded with two fire boats,” Chief Ehlers said.
North Channel writer Allan Jamail recalls, “On February 23, 1976, the same facility — known then as Goodpasture Grain — had a massive explosion, killing 7 and injuring 25 workers. I and my family were in Jacinto City coming home from Sunday morning church services when I heard the blast and felt the car shake. I saw a huge mushroom cloud towards GP. I knew my help would be needed so I rushed to the scene and had my wife drop me off 2 blocks away and take my kids home. I stayed at the site and worked nonstop three days helping other first responders recovering the injured and deceased victims. To this day I still have vivid memories of the victims mangled and burnt bodies.
“Most all of the windows in GP’s businesses were knocked out. The explosion and fires threatened briefly the numerous petroleum and chemical plants along the busy Houston Ship Channel. Two fireboats went to the scene to quench pier fires.
“We worked through the night, wading knee deep through spilled grain and pouring water on stubborn but contained fires. Heavy equipment was moved into the area to remove rubble so we could locate victims,” Jamail said.
The force of the explosion gouged out chunks of concrete and steel, heaving them into smaller storage tanks nearby which burst into flames. The main grain elevator was approximately 500 yards long and 100 feet tall. About half of it was destroyed.