Lexington County firefighters respond to hazardous materials incident in Calhoun County
Gaston, SC (Paul Kirby) Lexington County firefighters were on the scene of an active gas leak at a business on Access Road near Hwy. 21 Friday afternoon. This is close to the 119 exit of I-26. They later confirmed that they were in Calhoun county.
The county’s 911 center began receiving calls around 1:15 p.m. The callers said that they smelled a chlorine smell. First arriving Lexington County crews reported that they did have an “active” leak from an unidentified gas cylinder at a business.
Both battalion chiefs responded and were on the scene. They mobilized a full hazardous material response which moves all of the county’s special hazmat equipment to the scene. A chief officer also arrived on location and other senior fire officials were monitoring the situation.
Incident commanders set up a unified command post some distance away so that they could safely coordinate with Calhoun County and state officials regarding whether to close I-26. They had also enquired about the availability of Lexington County’s drones in case they needed to have eyes in the sky on the scene.
Eventually, fire commanders sent a recon team in that was able to see the leaking cylinder. Representatives of the business also arrived at the command post and notified the chiefs that the gas that was leaking was not dangerous. The situation was marked under control just after 2:00 p.m. All units began returning to quarters at that time.
This incident was in proximity to the National Welders complex. That business was the location of one of the most disastrous hazardous materials incidents in the area’s history. In the 90’s, an inert gas that was not dangerous by itself was intentionally released manually. It somehow interacted with the humidity in the atmosphere causing a white thick blanket of fog to settle across I-26.
One car that entered the gas cloud slammed on brakes in the white out conditions causing a chain reaction crash. Eventually, a long line of cars was involved, and the entire row of crashed vehicles caught fire. There were cars and tractor trailers involved in that fire. I-26 was closed for several hours as the fire was extinguished and the injured were cared for. At least one child died in the accident.
After an exhaustive investigation by the company, public officials, and the insurance companies involved, experts described the white-out as a “freak” incident where the gas mixed just in the perfect amount with the humidity to create the thick cloud that settled on the interstate.
Lexington County has NOT identified the business involved today as National Welders.