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Posted February 21, 2014 EST

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Iowa Fertilizer Plant Fire Leaves Four Hurt
United States (Iowa) - Residents of a small Iowa city are being told that they can return to their homes after a fire at a fertilizer warehouse caused an evacuation of the city Thursday morning, the sheriff's office said.

The fire, on airport grounds just south of the Minnesota-Iowa border, had prompted authorities to urge all residents of the small city to leave as quickly as possible in what they had called "a dangerous situation."

Four people arrived at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa in Mason City with injuries, said hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Duckert. The hospital was prepared to receive more victims, anticipating health problems such as nausea and respiratory difficulties, she said.

The fire at the unoccupied Farmers Feed and Grain Co. warehouse east of Northwood involves sulfuric acid, said Lucinda Robertson, spokeswoman for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Residents in the city of roughly 1,900, about 4 miles south of the Minnesota border, are being directed to the Kensett Community Center south of town, Robertson added.

Sulfuric acid, used in fertilizer as a drying agent, can burn the skin upon contact. Breathing sulfuric acid vapors can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract. Water also can spread and react with sulfuric acid, a concern with the looming snowfall.

An alert issued about 9:10 a.m. by Worth County Emergency Management informed residents that "this is a dangerous situation. Residents of Northwood are being asked to evacuate immediately. ... Repeating, this is a dangerous situation."

The Sheriff's Office in Northwood has been designated as a gathering point for people who need transportation to leave town.

Airport manager Mike Dierenfeld, who was at his veterinary office 3 blocks away when the fire erupted about 8 a.m., said the blaze struck a warehouse "pretty full" of herbicides and pesticides. The facility supplies small planes for application of the chemicals on crops, he said.

"A smoke plume was going up and to the northwest of town, but then the wind switched and it went right over town," Dierenfeld said. "It stinks pretty bad."

He said some people were arriving at the courthouse in town complaining of shortness of breath.

Dierenfeld said the fire was still smoldering as the noon hour approached, but it was "pretty much down"within 90 minutes.

The county was already under a blizzard warning, which had prompted schools to close for the day.

Written by Paul Walsh

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