Burnet asphalt fire blamed on operator error

Equipment used in the asphalt making process at Century Asphalt caught on fire. (Courtesy: City of Burnet)
Equipment used in the asphalt making process at Century Asphalt caught on fire. (Courtesy: City of Burnet)

BURNET, Texas (KXAN) — The fire that forced dozens of Burnet residents to evacuate their homes Wednesday night was caused by a fire inside equipment used in the asphalt-making process.

The fire started around 9:40 p.m. at Century Asphalt Plant, located on property leased to the plant by the Hanson Aggregates Quarry in Burnet on U.S. Highway 281. When firefighters arrived, they determined the fire was inside a piece of equipment used to make asphalt.

Employees at the plant said there was “potential for the equipment to catastrophically fail” so out of caution and safety for the fire crews, the assistant fire chief ordered the evacuation of the entire plant and nearby homes. There were initial concerns about chemicals being close to the fire that could cause more harm but authorities say once they received more information the chemical concern was determined to not be an issue.

“The fire got over 700 degrees and the employees at this location stated that it could blow and if it does it can take out a large area and for that reason we chose to evacuate the citizens as soon as we could,” said Burnet Police Chief Paul Nelson.

Residents of the Ranch at Delaware Creek neighborhood, within a mile of the Hanson Aggregates facility, were told to evacuate immediately. Emergency officials notified homeowners via telephone messages as well as going door-to-door to help in the evacuation. A total of 75 to 100 homes were asked to evacuate.

Once a Century Asphalt senior manager arrived on scene, he was allowed to go to the site to shut down the equipment. The Burnet Fire Marshal, John Erskine, says the fire never extended outside of the equipment. Around 11:30 p.m., fire crews re-entered the site to cool and extinguish the equipment.

Some of the evacuees spent a few hours at the Burnet Community Center while they waited for the all-clear. Just before 12 a.m., Burnet police told all evacuees they could return to their homes.

While the quarry itself mines limestone, the asphalt company on site produces asphalt for building roads. Erskine says this particular fire is “in no way a potential ‘West, Texas’ incident.” The cause of the fire inside the equipment was due to operator error.

One employee was taken to the hospital where he was treated and released.

Century Asphalt’s website shows they have three locations in the Hill Country, two in South Texas and seven in the Houston-area.

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