VAUDREUIL-DORION, Quebec (AP) -- An explosion and fire at a chemical plant sent up a cloud of toxic smoke outside Montreal, forcing the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents.
The blaze erupted about 9:30 p.m. Sunday at Regent Chemical Products in an acid-transformation plant believed to contain up to 13,000 gallons of toxic materials, including sulfuric, nitric and hydrochloric acid.
No injuries were reported. The plant was closed when the fire began, about 16 miles west of Montreal.
Though the blaze raged into Monday morning, tests detected no serious environmental damage and most residents were told they could return home shortly before 5 a.m.
''Only a few hundred people in one particular neighborhood are being told to stay away,'' said Wilfrid Houle, a Vaudreuil-Dorion police official.
About 5,000 people had been evacuated from nearby St-Lazare, the community hit hardest by the blowing smoke.
''The stench hit us and we got headaches,'' said Carole Godin, who left a nearby campground. ''We didn't have time to worry about what to take with us. We left in our pajamas.''
About 100 firefighters battled the blaze, but a lack of water made the task difficult.
''We tried our best with the water we had and the equipment we had, but it overpowered us, so we beat a retreat,'' said Harold Harvey, deputy fire chief for Vaudreuil-Dorion.
Firefighters also held back from dousing the fire with water for fear of overfilling special containment areas in the plant compound and contaminating nearby creeks and the sewer system, Harvey said.
He said he did not know how long it would take to put the fire out, but fires at similar factories in the United States have burned for a day or two.
As the thick cloud floated westward, away from Montreal, shelters were set up in Vaudreuil-Dorion to accommodate those who chose to leave their homes in St-Lazare, a bedroom community west of Montreal known for horse ranches and expensive country homes.
Harvey said there was no immediate danger to the public other than symptoms such as irritated eyes or throats.
Authorities began trucking earth and sand to the site to prepare for any spill of acid-contaminated water. They also planned to use truckloads of lime to neutralize any spilled acid.
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