Southern Utahns turned off their air conditioners, closed windows and doors and braced themselves for an acid cloud that rose in the wake of massive explosions at a rocket fuel manufacturing plant Wednesday.
The cloud carrying hydrochloric fumes never made it to Utah, thanks to brisk winds that dissipated the vapors before they could cause problems for southern Utah and northern Arizona residents.About 1 p.m. Wednesday, a fire triggered explosions at American Pacific Corp., a Henderson, Nev. company that manufactures an oxidizing agent used in production of rocket fuel.
St. George radio stations were the first to notify residents of the explosion and the accompanying gas cloud. Within minutes, the Washington County sheriff's warned residents to close doors and windows, turn off air conditioners and keep children inside.
Had the cloud rolled into southern Utah, residents would have noticed a battery acid-like smell and probably would have experienced skin and throat irritation.
Dr. Graham Wilson, head of emergency services at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, said he expects many southern Nevadans who were closer to the cloud to visit the hospital with respiratory complaints.
Fortunately for southern Utah, wind rendered the gas harmless, and the warning was lifted 45 minutes after it was issued.
But before the warning could be lifted, students in the Washington County School District were sent home and encouraged to stay inside.
"I never dreamed such a disaster could happen," said Fred Gibson, owner and president of American Pacific Corp., in an interview. "We've been operating here very quietly for 30 years."