Nearly 2,000 people were allowed to return home to their small Iowa town on Thursday after a fire and several small explosions at a nearby plant.
Firefighters from Northwood and surrounding communities, just south of the Minnesota border, battled the morning blaze at the Northwood AG Products fertilizer plant at the municipal airport, near Interstate 35, reported the Des Moines Register
Worth County Emergency Management director Ray Huftalin told the Mason City Globe Gazette
that the cause of Thursday's fire remained undetermined.
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The Register reported that earlier media reports erroneously said that the company's warehouse, which contained sulfuric acid, a corrosive chemical that can cause tissue damage and severe burns, was involved in the fire.
"The reason we initiated the evacuation of Northwood was just precautionary measures," Mitch Hanson, first assistant chief for Northwood's fire department told the Register. The newspaper noted that Hanson also works for the city public works department near the airport.
Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa in Mason City told The Associated Press
that four people were treated in connection with the fire, but declined to release their conditions.
Authorities allowed residents to return to their homes about 4 p.m. Thursday, reported the Globe Gazette. U.S. Highway 65, which officials closed in the early hours of the incident, was reopened about 3:15 p.m.
"The CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) crews and the emergency management groups are just picking up the last of their stuff and pulling out of town – if they can get out of town," Kensett mayor Tom Dakin told the Globe Gazette. His town sheltered many of the Northwood evacuees.
Kensett, which is six miles south of Northwood, was prepared for the Northwood evacuation from past emergency training, Dakin told the Globe Gazette.
"We've been trying to get all the Northwood people out of here. We've been setting car parades to follow an Iowa DOT plow back up to Northwood," Dakin told the newspaper. "We did absolutely excellent. I don't think it could have gone any smoother."
Steve O'Neil, emergency management director for Cerro Gordo and Franklin counties, said his counties helped in sheltering Northwood residents, too.
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