DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An evacuation ordered Thursday for a small Iowa city after a fertilizer fire broke out at the local airport was called off several hours later when environmental officials determined the air was safe.
By the time residents of Northwood were allowed to head back into the city and to their homes, the fire was out and a black plume of smoke that had hung over the community had dissipated. Strong winds from a storm with blizzard-like conditions moved the smoke away.
The fire started shortly after 9 a.m. at a storage-like building at the Northwood Municipal Airport, said Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Scott Bright. The evacuation was issued within an hour of the fire. It was called off around 3 p.m., after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had finished its testing and said the air was safe.
Bright called the evacuation a precaution. It kept residents from any potential harm and allowed officials to determine whether chemicals inside the building were hazardous.
The building is used to store material for crop dusting, and the main concern was herbicides and pesticides, said Kevin Baskin, a spokesman with the state Department of Natural Resources.
The cause of the fire is being investigated. The EPA is assisting in the case.
Four people sought treatment at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa in nearby Mason City. A hospital spokeswoman, Amanda Franzen, declined to provide details about their conditions.
"Some of the general symptoms that we are expecting include vomiting, nausea and respiratory conditions," Franzen said, referring to anyone who might breathe in a chemical. "It's not necessarily what the patients that have come in are experiencing."
Residents in the city of about 2,000 people, which is on the Minnesota state line and about 130 miles north of Des Moines, were issued a warning instructing them to meet at the local sheriff's office. Once they got there, buses took them to a community center in the tiny city of Kensett, about six miles away.
Amber Julseth, the city clerk of Northwood, said about 250 people went to the community center Thursday morning. They conversed, read and followed the news. She said a medical station had been set up, but that no one experienced any symptoms.
Highway 105, a main artery in the city, was blocked off near the fire but was later reopened.
Some residents drove to nearby areas to stay with family and friends until the evacuation was lifted.
Deb Brockman, 55, said she and her husband and two adult children went to a friend's house a few miles out of the city. They also took their dog and two cats with them.
"I'm sure it will all be OK," she said. "It isn't going to do any good to get stressed about it."
Snow was falling in Northwood as of Thursday afternoon, and a blizzard warning was in effect for the area, according to the National Weather Service.
Associated Press writers Margery Beck in Omaha, Neb., and David Pitt in Des Moines contributed to this report.