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Explosions and Fire in St. Louis

Aired June 24, 2005 - 16:42   ET


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: We have to go to pictures we have right now of a fire blazing in South St. Louis.
There you see some pictures of quite a fire. It looks like perhaps a fire after explosions in St. Louis, Missouri. We will get back with more on that as we have more information about this fire in St. Louis.

There are a series of explosions, we are told, that happened in this particular area. It's hard to tell from looking at the picture exactly what perhaps exploded there. But we're going to keep our camera on it. We'll going to keep an eye on exactly what is happening. Obviously, it looks like quite a large fire there. And we are getting word that perhaps ports and tanks flying through the air, explosions, again, are multiple.

Unclear and unknown whether or not anybody was there, anybody is injured. Again, this is South St. Louis, in Missouri. We are told that the fire, as you can tell by looking at these pictures, can be seen for miles.

And this location is not far from Lafayette Park in Missouri. And fire balls, we're seeing here, apparently are shooting into the air and casting, as you can see there smoke, black smoke 30 feet up in the air, a towering cloud of black smoke.

We understand that at this point there are no immediate reports of injuries, and no word again of the cause of these explosions. That's AP that's reporting that there are no immediate reports of any injuries.

Again, we'll remind your viewers that we are looking at pictures of explosions in South St. Louis in Missouri. Explosions apparently up to 30 feet in the air. Clouds of black smoke there. But again, at this point -- there you see an explosion there -- these are live pictures coming in from our affiliate, KMDV -- excuse me, KMOV.

We're going to stay with this. And forgive us while we show you these pictures, live pictures, you see those explosions and give you any information as soon as we get it, of course.

This is in an industrial park -- an industrial plant, forgive me, in South St. Louis. You can see the fire blazing, tanks exploding into the air, again, 30 feet in the air. You can see this from miles around. And again, you're looking at live pictures of these remarkable explosions in St. Louis, Missouri. And as these pictures are coming in live, and as we try to get more information as this is happening observe our eyes, we can tell you at this point, this early point, there are no reports of injuries there, but as you can see from the pictures, this is ongoing, and these are remarkable fires and remarkable explosions. Let's listen in to our affiliate.

BILL HOUSKA, CHOPPER PILOT: You can see the heavy, heavy flames shooting up from the scene now. I am getting a better picture of it now. You're still seeing those flames coming from those tanks. And now possibly part of the building has exploded here on the south side of the complex.

We are hearing -- I am actually hearing and feeling the booms from the tanks blowing up at this point from where I'm at now. I can also feel the flames. This is a very, very hot fire, sending the fire balls hundreds of feet into air.

And like I said, I have not been able to see firefighters reach the scene yet. They're far back holding a perimeter near Shoto and Mississippi, Shoto and Jefferson, Jefferson Park and Jefferson around the area. I have seen fire department vehicles moving in and out of the residential areas, these condos and apartments and townhomes, possibly getting everybody out, moving them back from the scene. Lots of law enforcement present around the area possibly as well, trying to get people out of the residential area.

I have seen the tanks flying through the air, it's a fireball, from the scene into these residential areas. So, if you are listening to us, your in your home, stay put, or possibly under the authority of the law enforcement or fire department, move out of your house.

BASH: And what you are hearing and what you are seeing are fires blazing, explosions happening, and a pilot, the pilot of the helicopter, describing what he's seeing. The helicopter that is taking these remarkable pictures.

And just to recap of what we're seeing, we're seeing live pictures of explosions at an industrial plant in St. Louis. Reports of tanks flying through the air, perhaps even into residential areas. And apparently no sign of firefighters anywhere near, as you can tell that this is quite a dangerous situation going on.

But we do have our affiliate covering this live as it is happening. And this is -- and you just heard him report even he can feel the explosions perhaps as they happen, as they hover over this incredible blaze. And this blaze at an industrial plant in St. Louis.

This industrial plant, we are told, makes oxygen tanks. Unclear what exactly the source of this fire is.

Now, earlier, we did hear reports of explosions as high as 30 feet up in the air. As you can see from the live pictures, that is still ongoing. And we hope to certainly bring you more information about exactly what the cause of this was and what the situation is on the ground. As you can see, this is an area that seems to be contained into the industrial plant, but because these explosions are so high and so obviously forceful -- let's listen in to our affiliate.

HOUSKA: Ladder aerial truck of the fire department is staying quite a ways back, but they do have the arm up and they are trying to spray fire from a distance, possibly using those buildings as shields. Like I said, those tanks have been flying through the air. So, they're trying to help the situation and get work on it, but they are staying away for safety, of course, of the fire department and of the civilians around here. But this is a huge fire.

And as you said, we have been on the air for 15 minutes. And this has continued to escalate. The flames are still shooting hundreds of feet in the air, the smoke is filling the sky around St. Louis right now. And this ravages this entire area here as it works itself from the west side of the building all the way around, now to the east. Now it's going to make its way north as you continue to see these fire balls.

BASH: There you just heard a firsthand account -- let's listen again.

HOUSKA: That's right. There's no way at this point to get inside to the heart of this fire. They're doing the best they can with this explosive situation here. This is utterly an amazing fire and very, very dangerous.

BASH: You're listening to the voice of Bill Houska, who is the pilot of the KSDK helicopter that is covering this live event, covering this remarkable series of explosions. He is describing smoke essentially starting to cover the city of St. Louis, where this plant is located, describing explosions now hundreds of feet in the air, and also talking about how obviously dangerous this is so that at this point, no firefighters can get in. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I imagine they're feeling the heat pretty hot right now.

BASH: Now, this is KMOV, another affiliate also providing us with live pictures of this explosion. That as one on the scene just said, has been going on for more than 15 minutes, but has been escalating in a way that has made it virtually impossible for firefighters to get near.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger that. Like I said, they're just trying to keep they're distance away from what's going on. I'm not sure how they're going to attack this. Obviously, they have to let it burn out a little bit before they can get in close. I imagine they're going to have HAZMAT crews here before too long.

BASH: Now police sources tell CNN this plant makes oxygen tanks, which certainly could be the reason why we're seeing this series of explosions that has been going on for more than 15 minutes now.

HOUSKA: Right. You'll see there's actually four tanks that are just on the north side of that. You can't see it in our picture right now, because we're a little bit to the southeast. But if the fire spreads, I'm sure those are going to catch fire, too. BASH: For our viewers who are just tuning in, we are watching live pictures from our affiliates in St. Louis, getting pictures of a series of explosions at an industrial plant in South St. Louis which has been going on for quite some time, sending fire balls hundreds of feet into the air, and now thick black smoke now beginning to go over the city of St. Louis.

So dangerous. But still, apparently, firefighters have not been able to get near. There was one report earlier, one concern about these fire balls going into residential areas.

HOUSKA: There are a lot of cars moving away from the area here on Park on the south side of the fire system. This is the only fire vehicle I've seen to this point trying to get inside there and help this fire situation out.

I am seeing smoke from a few other areas outside of that perimeter, so I'm sure that's going to be a concern on their minds make sure this fire does not spread to this residential area. And continually, I'm still seeing with amazement, these fireball oxygen tanks, or gas tanks, flying through the air. I'm just hoping they're hitting the rooftops of these buildings, not hitting anybody in the parking lots or cars on the ground. But it's a very scary situation as these things hurdle themselves through the air while on fire.

So this is -- that's right, I can feel the increased temperature here as is yet, and I'm still a quarter mile away from the scene. So, this is a very, very active scene. And I'm sure on the ground, it has raised the temperature there a good amount as well, helping these people move back from the scene.

I've seen a lot of fire department and police department vehicles inside these residential areas, hopefully moving people back away from the scene and out of danger. That's right.

BASH: What we are listening to is the voice of one of our affiliates, the voice of Bill Houska who is in a helicopter that is hovering over...

HOUSKA: Sure, it's a Lafayette Park area, primarily here. The streets that are really effected are going to be Mississippi on the East, Shoto on the North, Park on the South and Jefferson on the West.

The fire department and police have shut down a lot of these roads. Park is still open at this point. I do see closures on Mississippi. Shoto is completely shut down. Jefferson on the west is shut down between Park and Shoto. So those are the main streets that are closed off.

Of course, the streets inside this entire area -- they're still trying to get people out, but we can continue to hear and feel these pops from these explosions that are going off inside this.

So, expect -- you know, this is going to be continuing on for a long time this afternoon. So, if you live in the area, you might want to make a stop over somewhere else on your way home until the all clear is given to come back into this area.

BASH: You're listening to Bill Houksa with our affiliate KSDK who is in the helicopter over this remarkable and obviously quite dangerous scene of a spreading fire, a blaze at an industrial plant, Praxair Company, we are told in South St. Louis. A series of explosions that as you see just now as these live pictures are coming in, have been going on for at least 20 minutes, maybe more.

And what we heard is fire officials, policemen trying to get to the surrounding residential areas to protect people, to try to perhaps evacuate, we expect to evacuate, to make sure that nobody is getting hurt by these explosions, which we are told are going hundreds of feet in the air. We hear these explosions are going hundreds of feet in the air.

And Praxair, which is the plant you see here that on fire, makes oxygen -- oxygen tanks. They also make and sell other types of gases, which one would expect and one would suspect is part of the reason why this series of explosions has been going on for quite some time with not abating at all, in fact, getting more and more dangerous, perhaps, worse.

And you can see there, now as the helicopter sort of moves away a little bit, you can see a wider shot of this. The black smoke is really starting to move towards the St. Louis region. This is in South St. Louis. And people who are in the region and in the area are being told obviously, to stay away.

But the concern at this point, we are hearing from our affiliate, is for the people in the residential areas who are near there. And still the reports are at this point that perhaps no one was in the plant at the time.

But again, it's very early. And information could change, because as we have been hearing, it's been impossible for firefighters to get into the area because the explosions have been going on and even getting worse.

Now we're being told that they are evacuating a two block area. At least at this point, that is what the firefighter and rescue officials in the St. Louis area are doing right now, trying to do, trying to do what is possible to try to maintain the safety of the people around here.

HOUSKA: Blown over from the Prax building just across the street. So, as you can see this is throwing those fire balls away from scene. And this could spread into a very bad situation here. This is just next door. If some of these vehicle were to start exploding and to start catching on fire as well. So, this is very active. If anybody is nearby, like I said, please stay in your house.

BASH: Now, just to recap, what you are seeing are live pictures of explosions, a series of remarkable and obviously quite dangerous explosions at the Praxair Company, an industrial plant in South St. Louis creating a series of explosions, evacuation of a two block radius around this area. And firefights at this point, we understand, not being able to get in, but certainly trying.

And we are going to end INSIDE POLITICS now. And we're going to turn it over to Wolf Blitzer who is going to continue with this story on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Dana. We're watching this dramatic picture, a series of explosions at an industrial plant, the south part of St. Louis. South St. Louis, not far from downtown. For those of you who have visited St. Louis, this is an area, largely a residential area, although there is an industrial plant there.

Praxair Distribution is the firm that manufactures, processes propane and other gases, there, for industrial use. That explains these series of explosions that we've seen. Oxygen, propane -- other areas in this industrial plant -- one fire leads to an explosion, that leads to other explosions; sort of a trigger.

In the past, sometimes in these kinds of fires, you just have to let it burn out. There is limited capability in what to do beyond that. What firefighters will try to do is to contain it to within this industrial plant area in southern St. Louis.

There is a helicopter pilot named Bill Houska (ph) from our affiliate KSDK whose monitoring it. Let's listen in to hear what he's saying. Bill Houska is the chopper pilot who's been reporting on this dramatic development in the southern saint -- southern part of St. Louis, south St. Louis.

One wife of an employee there, a woman named Shellry Warner (ph), according to the associated press, has told a local TV station, KSDK, that her husband called her to tell her it was believed that all the employees were evacuated safely.

Let's listen in to the chopper pilot.

BILL HOUSKA, KSDK CORRESPONDENT: ... I was just about to point out that more vehicles have been caught on fire here and this is across the street into another area.

So, hopefully the fire department can see these pictures from the helicopter cam here and are aware that these other vehicles are on fire. Hopefully, that they can get to these fires before this spreads throughout this entire parking lot of construction and industrial vehicles here that you see have caught on fire from the debris field that this building...

BLITZER: Clearly, there are a lot of flammable materials in this area. That's understandable in a propane processing facility. Oxygen tanks, propane tanks -- you go around there with a match and unfortunately, this is what potentially could happen.

We do not know the cause of this fire or the series of explosions. We don't have any word on the extent of injuries, if any, but we're watching what's happening. Some firefighting equipment clearly on the scene. You can see water trying to get in there to do something with these series of explosions, but if you were watching CNN over the past 15, 20, 25 minutes, you've seen some very dramatic series of explosions. The fire, literally, raging out of control, right now in south St. Louis, not far from the downtown part of St. Louis, in an area surrounded with residential homes and other areas where there clearly is potential for this fire spreading, although firefighters seem to be on the scene. They're already pouring water on some of the facilities, but it's continuing.

Black smoke billowing up through the skies 50 feet in the air, according to local report and you see -- there you see hoses and water cannons trying to deal with these problems. But if this is a highly industrialized park with lots of flammable equipment, there is limits to what that water can do under these circumstances, based on previous experiences with these kinds of fires at industrial zones like this.

For our viewers just watching us, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington and we'll continue to watch this story unfold. An explosion, series of explosions, in south St. Louis at an industrial plant. The plant is called Praxair distribution. It processes propane and other gases for industrial use.

According to local reports, the area is mostly residential. Residents have been evacuated from the neighborhoods nearby. One woman, whose husband is an employee there, says she believes, based on a phone call from her husband, that all the employees -- we don't know how many employees work there, but all the employees were evacuated safely.

But this rapid-fire series of explosions at Praxair has certainly alarmed us and sure alarmed our viewers who may be watching this around the country -- South St. Louis, right near downtown, an industrial plant. Right now, let's listen in, once again, to the chopper pilot.

HOUSKA: Yes. Something shot over. They've got several trucks. You can focus in left portion of the screen, you can see all the trucks. You still got me up for air?

BLITZER: There you see some of the spreading of these fires to some of the vehicles in the parking lot surrounding this industrial plant in south St. Louis; an industrial plant that processes oxygen tanks, propane gas, other very highly flammable material in this plant.

We don't know the cause of this fire. We don't know the extent of injuries, if any. We do know that over the past 20 minutes or so, there have been a series of explosions and the fire balls have clearly gone up into the sky -- the dark smoke there. This may be a case where the fires will simply burn themselves out before the firefighters really have an opportunity to go in there and deal with it. Let's listen in again to the chopper pilot, Bill Houska.

HOUSKA: They're still using us live. I'm sorry. You got me up?

BLITZER: We have a series -- here we go. Let's listen to this. HOUSKA: Looks like it caught a pickup truck down here, this red pickup truck. That's caught on fire and also, right at the top of my screen there, it looks like something might have landed in the back of that dump truck and that trailer there that caught that on fire.

Well, it looks like John Brubaker (ph), our pilot here, has indicated that it's all industrial right there along -- to the left of your screen, but if I pan over here to your right, that is all residential.

That's right, Kelly, I'm here. One thing we might want to mention here is that the wind has been changing around pretty significantly. We started here with the wind coming from the southeast. That was pushing more of the flame or the smoke to the northwest. It has changed over to the southwest, and now it looks like it's coming straight out of the south. So, this is going to change the pattern of this fire and of course, the smoke plume that -- as it comes up from the scene.

So, this is going to be a shifty fire and hard for the firefighters to get into, I'd assume. The fire that was over in the lot next door to the west of the building has increased itself as well. Some of those vehicles are on fire now with heavy flames shooting from them.

As you can see, this is still an area -- this is the southeast corner of the building here that is completely engulfed with smoke right now -- heavy, heavy flames. One fire department vehicle, the aerial truck, is still on the scene trying to pour water on it using those buildings as some sort of shield, I'm sure, from the debris field that has been blowing these -- away from this fire scene, here at the building.

That's right. I can feel the --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- where the fire is. Joining me now is one of the witnesses who has been here about an hour. Your name again, sir, is?

TERRI BROOKMAN (ph), WITNESS: Terri Brookman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What have you seen in the past hour?

BROOKMAN: A lot of fire, large explosions, a lot of smoke, debris flying through the air, up to 300 feet in height, landing a block away from the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Appears to me they've been evacuating some of the people. Have you seen them leaving their homes and businesses?

BROOKMAN: I've seen no one leaving here, but just the fire trucks arriving and guys putting the fire out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:: Some of the shrapnel is landing right nearby us. Not at this point, but it's landed before we got here. You're staying here. Aren't you worried? BROOKMAN: No, not really. You can gauge the height it goes and I did get behind a tree one time for safety sake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little bit frightening.

BROOKMAN: A little bit, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. That's Terri Brookman, one of the first on the scene, he works nearby here and every so often, you'll hear a loud boom like a big brass bass drum -- brass drum, rather.

Now, the firefighters across the street, they've gotten to the warehouse, they've opened the door and now, to be sure, they're firing water on top of it to see if that projectile -- make sure it doesn't cause a fire at that location -- Penny (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rocky, again, how far are you away? The man we were just hearing from, how close was he to the fire?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess we're about a block or two from the fire and it's just amazing that these pieces of metal, including the propane tank that Charles told you about, has come down right nearby. It's amazing that we don't see anybody injured around here with these explosions taking place and it's like giant pieces of shrapnel falling in people's neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it is and just a moment ago we saw from Sky Fox Live, we saw some of these vehicles across from the fire in another complex that were burning. Also, there was that residential street that we saw -- we just saw another explosion there, live. Along that residential street, it looks like there were cars that were burning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is amazing what we're seeing here in the firefight. The police officers are telling us to get back. We snuck in a back way here, but we're getting the word on our beeper asking fire officials to get our photographers back, I assume just to be safe.

Here is Charles Jacka (ph) with some more information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Basically, again, to reiterate what we said earlier, the big problems for fire officials is this fire jumping a fire line and flaming pieces of debris falling in other places igniting automobiles, maybe other businesses, which is what's happened over here, because there's is...

BLITZER: All right. So let's update our viewers who are just tuning in, just want to explain. We've been switching between our various affiliates in St. Louis. This is South St. Louis. A huge fire as erupted in an industrial plant, a plant run by Praxair Distribution, which processes propane and other gases for industrial use.

Joining us now on the phone, Kim Bacon, public information officer for the St. Louis Fire Department. Kim Bacon, tell us what we know about this.

KIM BACON, ST. LOUIS FIRE DEPARTMENT (via telephone): Well, what we know is that it's now in a third alarm and most of our resources are protecting the perimeter, as what's been described to you. We do have some explosions of various gas tanks that are happening. And we are manifesting the company products list at this time. We do know propane is one of the possible gases that we are a dealing with.

So we're going to have to wait until we get a full manifest. And we are sampling air around the area so that we are getting some ideas -- I haven't heard yet what our readings are -- but as to what combustable gas may be in the area.

Our evacuation area is rapidly changing. We've increased it several times over the last few minutes, including for many of our staff personnel. So it's kind of in transition right now. And we are protecting exposures. And that's what I can tell you.

BLITZER: Well, given the highly flammable gas tanks that are there, whether propane or oxygen, it would be very dangerous to send firefighters into this fire. I guess you're trying it work from the outside and eventually you might just to have to let this fire burn itself out? Is that what happens?

BACON: Well, absolutely it's dangerous to send firefighters in. And we don't have anybody on the inside right now. We're evaluating what gases we may be dealing with. And then will take it from there. And I'll keep you posted.

BLITZER: How much danger to the residential area surrounding this industrial plant is there? How many blocks, for example. And what kind of neighborhood is it?

BACON: It's primarily industrial. We do have approximately three to four blocks radius right now that we have different people in staging.

BLITZER: And have you evacuated residents from those areas?

BACON: I don't know how many people have been evacuated. It's primarily an industrial area. We have stopped all traffic and evacuated the people in that area.

BLITZER: We're told that the manager of this plant, Praxair Distribution, informed one of his colleagues that all of the employees have been accounted for. And they've gotten out. Is that your information as well?

BACON: I have not heard of any injuries, but I have not had an opportunity to update accountability.

BLITZER: So once again, when you say this is -- what kind of an alarm fire? Is this the maximum kind of fire that you potentially are dealing with in St. Louis?

BACON: We're not at a maximum capacity yet, no, we're not. So I'll keep you in touch. This is still in transition.

BLITZER: I take it you have to run. Is that right, Kim Bacon?

BACON: That is a fact.

BLITZER: All right, go ahead. Go do your work. And we'll check back with you. Kim Bacon is with the St. Louis Fire Department briefing us on what we know, which basically is that a huge fire has erupted at this industrial plant with lots of gas tanks, with lots of flammable equipment there. Clearly a dangerous area for the residents. There are several blocks of residential areas near this area in South St. Louis, although it is largely, as Kim Bacon of the St. Louis Fire Department told us, an industrial area to begin with.

But if you have flammable equipment, like gas tanks, oxygen, propane, one explosion is certainly going to trigger another explosion. And if you're watching CNN for the past half hour or so, you've seen some dramatic explosions erupting right in the middle of that television screen, as one fire erupted and led to another fire.

We have various affiliates of ours in St. Louis covering this. As a result, you'll see lots of different aerial shots coming in and occasionally we'll dip in to what they're saying, including some of the chopper pilots. Let's listen in now.

HOUSKA: Downtown. It was a very large fire as well. That one was just a huge, huge fire. This is the first time I've seen these air tanks were hurdled through the air. I've seen this in other cities, on a national news, things like that. But to see it live is just amazing to see these tanks flying through the air several city blocks away.

Like I said, my first concern of course was for the people on the ground. Hopefully that everybody was inside and not -- and nobody was struck or no vehicles were struck as those tanks were flying through the air.

And that went on for a good ten, 15 to 20 minutes as I first arrived on scene. I have seen a decrease in the debris flying away.

As I mentioned earlier, Archair Medical Service, which is a good quarter mile away, was getting hit with the debris field as well. That's right up near Highway 40. And the Market Street ramp getting on to Eastbound 40. That building was getting hit by debris fields, so this was throwing debris in every direction here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Bill, catch your breath. We'll come back to you in a bit, because I want to talk about that smoke and how that's impacting the area. Let's check in, though, right now with Jeff Small. Jeff, what can you tell us?

JEFF SMALL: I've actually been talking to a number of the residents who live around here. I'm sitting next to Jeff Mitch who I wanted to tell you what his experience has been like. Let me let you talk with Jeff Mitch -- Jeff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Jeff, thank you for joining us.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi Jeff, thanks for joining us. Where were you? What can you tell us?

MITCH: Well, I live at Lofts at Lafayette Square, which is two buildings down from this explosion that happened. It sounded like -- I thought we were being attacked. The entire -- it's a five-story brick building. And the entire building shook. And it was -- I mean I'm still shaking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You thought you were being attacked.

MITCH: It was like a bomb being dropped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then what did you do?

MITCH: Well, they evacuated the entire building up to 18th Street at Chouteau . Called my roommate and told him about it. Called my mom. Which interestingly enough, the last place I lived there was a fire at building right next door. So it's like...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Deja vu, kind of. Hey Jeff, do you know what else is in that area, like other business?

MITCH: Other business?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know Ameron UE (ph) has been evacuated.

MITCH: Ameron -- they evacuated Ameron, the restaurant and bar, 1111 Mississippi. I don't know what else been evacuated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. We're glad you're safe. Take care. Thanks for helping us out.

MITCH: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Let's go to Alex Fees (ph) now. Alex, what's your update?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Deann, we are live still at the intersection of 22'nd and Clark. We are on the north side of this fire, across Highway 40, probably four to six blocks north of it. I can tell that you that that smoke has begun drifting out to the north. It is drifting in the vicinity of the Hampton Inn, the AT&T Tower, also AG Edwards.

Now, we know a little bit more information about Praxair. Annual sales of Praxair over $6 billion. It is a Fortune 500 company on the New York Stock Exchange. Also, they are a supplier of things such as propane and chemicals.

Of course, at this point we do not know the cause of this explosion. I can also tell you that that smoke a bit here, as we are looking live, is graying up a bit. That is certainly good news for firefighters that are on the scene. However, it does appear to be still predominantly black.

Certainly what we're looking for here, what would be good news for firefighters and people in the vicinity is a lighter colored gray smoke.

As we heard earlier, emergency officials are asking everyone within a five-block radius of the 2200 block of Chouteau , again, that's everyone within a five-block radius of the 2200 block of Chouteau to evacuate.

I'm Alex Fees (ph), reporting live this afternoon near 22nd and Clark. Back to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Be careful out there.

And as you heard Alex say, they're having everyone who lives within five blocks of the 2100 block of Hickory to be evacuated.

Bill, any movement? Bill, can you hear us? Any movement now of the fire department? Do you see anything?

HOUSKA: Deann (ph), what I have noticed here on the scene once I was able to look around the immediate area now, Chouteau , just to the west of Jefferson is being used as a staging area. I have counted near ten different pumper and aerial trucks on the scene on Chouteau . Six to seven ambulances are on the scene as well. Apparently this is the staging ground for the fire department, possibly devising a game plan for getting into this situation here.

The two aerial trucks to the southeast corner are still trying to put water on this southeast corner, possibly to let them have an entryway into the fire to get inside on the upwind side of this so they can get away from the smoke and flames that are moving now northbound, like Alex said, toward the Hampton Inn on Highway 40 up near Jefferson.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to break away from our affiliates who are covering this, KSDK and the chopper pilot Bill Houska. They've been doing an excellent job reporting on this huge industrial plant fire that erupted about a half an hour or so ago.

Joining us on the phone is David Hunn from the "St. Louis Post Dispatch." First of all David, what do you know about this fire?

DAVID HUNN, ST LOUIS POST DISPATCH (via telephone): Well, it started roughly just after 3:00. It's -- According to guys at a truck business right next to the fire, it's a tank and propane business that caught fire and started sending exploding propane tanks hundreds of feet into the sky.

BLITZER: David, where exactly are you right now?

HUNN: Say again?

BLITZER: Where are you?

HUNN: I am just south of the -- I mean just west of the command station.

BLITZER: So you can see this fire. Do you feel it? Do you feel the heat where you are?

HUNN: You can smell it more than anything. Can you feel it when these huge fire balls went soaring into the sky. And then you'd get just another blast of heat coming through.

BLITZER: Is there any danger from the smoke? Are local authorities telling you to get out of the area, because there could be a dangerous nature to the smoke and the gas that could be erupting from this propane processing plant?

HUNN: I haven't heard that yet. The authorities are still gathering. They don't seem to be ready to tell us anything yet.

BLITZER: Does it look like there is enough firefighting equipment already on the scene?

HUNN: I would say that there are two dozen various emergency equipment at this point.

BLITZER: And they are a shooting water in, as we can see from these live aerial pictures, courtesy of our affiliates in St. Louis. My experience with these kinds of fires at these kinds of industrial plants is they basically just have to flame themselves out before firefighters can actually even go into this dangerous area.

HUNN: Nobody seems to be going in at this point, from this end, at least.

BLITZER: What about -- what, if anything, do you know about employees or residents in the area, or any extent of juries, if any?

HUNN: Well, we know very little, but there are unconfirmed reports of maybe people being in the area, maybe caught in the fire.

BLITZER: People inside, employees or others who may have been there?

HUNN: Actually I hate to say this on air, but maybe children.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we won't speculate too much until we get some hard information.

HUNN: We haven't heard anything firm yet. We've heard nothing firm.

BLITZER: Local police or firefighter authorities are not saying anything?

HUNN: Not yet. They seem to be preparing.

BLITZER: Have they set up a task force? Are there rescue workers there, ambulances, medical personnel? HUNN: Yes, there is all kinds of different people here. At this point, I mean I can't even count the number of ambulances and fire trucks.

BLITZER: David, tell us a little bit about South St. Louis, this area that our viewers around the country are now seeing.

HUNN: Right. South St. Louis is an interesting area. It's lots of rehab, lots of kind of houses that were once beautiful, fell into disrepair and are now being brought back to kind after beautiful state. This is just north of one of the nicer parts of these kind of rehab areas.

It's a part that lots of condo building, lots of bars and restaurants coming back into the area, unsure how this is going to affect this.

BLITZER: I'm going to have you, David, stand by for a minute. We have Susan Gore, the director...

HUNN: I got to go, man.

BLITZER: of corporate communications for Praxair. This is a Praxair processing or distribution plant. Susan, what do you know -- what can you tell us about this fire?

SUSAN GORE, PRAXAIR COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR (via telephone): Not a whole lot at this early stage, as you can appreciate. The location is what we call a packaged gases or cylinder gases location that puts various types of gases, primarily acetylene, which is used for welding, but other types of gases as well into cylinders for distribution to customers.

I can tell you that all of our employees were evacuated and accounted for. And so we're very grateful that there were no injuries there.

BLITZER: Are there other people though inside beyond employees, Susan, that you know about?


BLITZER: So everybody seems to be safe. Is that the information you have?

GORE: That's the information I have yes.

BLITZER: This fire erupted shortly after 3:00 p.m. Central time, which would be 4:00 p.m. Eastern about almost an hour and half or so ago. Is that right?

GORE: I believe so. But again, we're still in the process of collecting information from our folks who, as you can imagine, have a top priority of taking care of business on the site. As soon as we have more information, I'd be glad to get back to you.

BLITZER: How many people work at this Praxair distribution facility?

GORE: There are about 70, 7-0, employees assigned to that plant. I don't know exactly how many may have actually been on the site at the time of the incident.

BLITZER: And specifically what do they manufacture?

GORE: As I said, it's a packaged gases plant. We actually take -- the gases aren't actually manufactured there. They're shipped in and put into cylinders for distribution to customers, for instance, people who need welding gases.

BLITZER: So this is a very, very highly flammable, dangerous area to begin with. I assume you have all the best kinds of precautions in dealing with the threat of fire.

GORE: We do. And I should say right up front, this kind of situation is very rare for us. We do spend a lot of time on safety. And I think the fact that all of our employees are safe is a testimony to that.

Yes, you're right -- the materials that are handled at that site can be very flammable. And that's why we treat them with a great deal of respect.

BLITZER: Is the smoke, based on what you know, potentially dangerous as it begins to move around South St. Louis? Is this the toxic nature of this smoke? Is there a hazard to residents and others who may be inhaling it?

GORE: You know, I don't believe so. But I am not on site, and I would hesitate to speculate on that at this point. Again, as we get more information, I'd be glad to get back in touch with you.

BLITZER: All right, Susan Gore, works at Praxair. She's director of corporate communications. Susan, I'll let you go. Get some more information for us. But the most important information you provide was that all the employees, normally about 70 who work there, although we don't know how many were there on this date, all the employees have been evacuated safely.

But this fire, clearly continuing there in South St. Louis. It looks like the eruptions, the major explosions that we saw within the past 40 minutes or so live here on CNN, looks like those explosions have ended, have clearly ended, though the smoke and the fire, the intensity, is clearly something that continues right now.

I want to briefly listen in to another one of our affiliates in St. Louis as they report on what's going on.

MARK BELEW, EVACUATED ...corner of Jefferson and Chouteau behind the long building that fronts on Chouteau .

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you been watching the pictures?

BELEW: Oh, I got the Harry here. And I've seen the TV going. And we can't believe it. I thought I was in California for an earthquake. And when I went outside, I could echo the comments of the other guy, Jeff, that you talked to about under attack and all that. But when I saw the location, I knew exactly it was Praxair because obviously we're neighbors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Mark, are those some your vehicles on fire in your parking lot?

BELEW: No, that's not our parking lot. Our vehicles are up and down Chouteau shut down due to the closing of the street that are coming and going. But none of ours are on fire, no ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, have you seen your business on our television screen? I mean have you been affected?

BELEW: Well, you wouldn't know it's us unless you know where you're looking. So, yes, we have seen it. And nothing has happened now.

Our windows were shaking, our garage doors to our shop were shaking. And I thought they were going to come off the hinges. I have a little more comical remarks, but I'm very, very concerned, because I haven't heard a word about any injuries or people caught inside that place. And I just can't imagine

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, we share your concern. And as soon as we have that information, of course, we'll share it with you and all of our viewers. And of course, we're keeping good thoughts for everybody that works at Praxair and the surrounding area. Thank you so much.

BELEW: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much, Mr. Belew.

BELEW: All righty. Thanks.


Again, we're showing you the areas that have been evacuated. Jefferson, Chouteau, Hickory, Park, 2143 Hickory, the 2100 block of Hickory, Praxair, U.P.S., Ameron UE.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get back to CNN. This is Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're watching this fire -- the aftermath of this fire, although it clearly continues. It was much worse as the explosions -- a series of explosions clearly erupted within the past half hour or so.

Tom Bialssak owns a catering business in the area and joins us on the phone. How close are you to the area, Tom?

TOM BIALSSAK, BUSINESS IS NEAR FIRE (via telephone): We're approximately five to six blocks right down the street.

BLITZER: What do you see from your vantage point? BIALSSAK: From now, we're only seeing the severe dense, black smoke. Earlier you see the flames shooting up like Roman candles when the gas tanks -- when the -- I guess those were portable gas tanks were going up.

BLITZER: How long have you been in business in this area of South St. Louis?

BIALSSAK: We've been in business for the last 15 years.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this in this area of St. Louis?

BIALSSAK: Nothing like this.

BLITZER: Has there been a warning that this is a dangerous area, this industrial plant?

BIALSSAK: No, no. No, not at all.

BLITZER: In other words, even though they process propane and other highly flammable gases, it was not a concern to you.

BIALSSAK: No, it never was. We have the deli up front with the catering in back and several of their employees patronize us, the company itself does. They're loyal customers of us -- of ours, for their meetings and everything.

BLITZER: Are you close to local rescue workers or firefighters?

BIALSSAK: Literally, they are in front of our building. This fire chief, the chief of police, the mayor, all the emergency vehicles are literally parked in our lot, in our part of our building.

BLITZER: Have they set up an emergency task force there, like a command center that's been set up there?

BIALSAAK: Yes, they have, right on the corner of Chouteau and Ohio, it's the command center.

BLITZER: Have you had a chance to speak to any of them?

BIALSAAK: No. No, because they ...

BLITZER: You're watching the same as the rest of us.

BIALSAAK: We're on our parking lot right now. You can hear the helicopters above us. This one helicopter that's landing, I don't know where that's landing, not even a block away. They made us evacuate the building and they are being kind enough to just stay across the street right now.

BLITZER: But they haven't evacuated your specific block.

BIALSAAK: Oh, yes, they have. I mean our building. Our parking lot is across the street. Literally, they closed everything to the left (ph).

BLITZER: But are authorities telling you get out of this area?

BIALSAAK: They made us, yes.

BLITZER: So you've moved away from your building.


BLITZER: What does it smell like, the area, right now? We've heard it's a very pungent smell.

BIALSAAK: Well, at this location, you can't smell anything.

BLITZER: Maybe the wind is blowing the smoke in the other direction.

BIALSAAK: I was going to say, maybe the wind is blowing it to the east carrying it over across the river. I don't know.

BLITZER: But the black smoke, is that hovering near you?

BIALSAAK: I mean, yeah.

BLITZER: Can you clearly see it. You can clearly see it.

BIALSAAK: Oh, yes. Yes.

BLITER: Tom Bialsaak, I want to thank you for spending a few moments and sharing your first-hand observations. Clearly, a sad moment in south St. Louis. We see these vehicles that have been -- that are on fire as well as this processing plant. All these gas tanks there clearly very flammable. One series of explosions, fires, leads to another. It looks like these fires are simply going to have to burn out before local firefighters can really go in there and deal with the aftermath of this. We did hear from a spokeswoman for Praxair Distribution that all of the employees have been evacuated safely and hopefully that is the case.

And we've also heard from others that it looks like the residents in the area have been evacuated. But the fires, if you were watching CNN only within the past half an hour or so ago, you saw some very dramatic explosions literally one right after another, flames, fire balls, bursting through the sky, and now we see the black smoke from these wide shots from the aerial shots. Our affiliates are covering it. Let's listen in briefly to our affiliate coverage, get a flavor of what they're telling viewers in the St. Louis area.

HOUSKA: I now see another staging area on the east side, still on Chouteau out by Mississippi. Lots of fire trucks, lots of pumper trucks, lots of aerial trucks, lots and lots of ambulances. The mutual aid call has been put out. Those vehicles are arriving on the scene. Now Jefferson is still shut down from Scott on the north side all the way down to Park on the south side. Park is still open for people to move and evacuate the area. Mississippi is shut down to the east between Park and Chouteau and of course, Chouteau is still shut down. Earlier, traffic that was on highway 40 has opened up, that looks good here all the way past the scene. So no delays on 40 right now as you make your way down for the Cardinal game tonight.

The flames are still just those small concentrated little areas now. A lot of the big flames have subsided. I've just seen now what appears to be a power line that was just south of the field there snapped. There was a bright blue flash from just south of those flames. The two aerial trucks are still trying to put water on the fire. The one vehicle to the east is still on fire. The vehicles to the west in that parking lot have not spread to any other vehicles that I can see at this point. I can still see two to three to four vehicles that are on fire with heavy flames and heavy smoke coming out still.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thank you very much, Bill. We want to go to Mike Owens now. As I mentioned, he's at Cardinal and Chouteau. Mike?

MIKE OWENS, AFFILIATE CORRESPONDENT: Deann (ph), we're waiting right now for a briefing from St. Louis city officials, the mayor, fire chief and police chief to tell us exactly what's been going on at Praxair. I will update that the traffic is blocked on Chouteau. If you want to travel east or west on Chouteau or north or south of Chouteau in the downtown area, pleased don't do it, because the traffic is totally backed up, the roads are closed in this general area.

I've been able to talk to some people who work at a truck lot located adjacent to Praxair. They say they heard it all start booming a little while ago. They could hear the booms, didn't know what it was. They looked out, they started seeing things flying through the air. And they took off running. They didn't wait for an evacuation order. And they've left their automobiles in their truck lot. They're kind of walking home right now. Some of them are having their spouses pick them up.

They say there are barrels and cans and everything was flying through the air. That's what frightened them. Of course, the authorities have called for an evacuation in a generalized area around the scene of the fire but we're not sure exactly who is being evacuated because most of the buildings here are industrial buildings. Many of them are closing for the day. So the evacuation may not affect any individuals who are living in these buildings. Again, we are expecting a briefing from some city officials here at this location.

I'm on Chouteau west of the fire scene, I'm at Cardinal and Chouteau, just near Compton Avenue. And the city officials are expected to talk to us about what they're doing right now to battle this blaze and what they can possibly do to battle the blaze. We've been at this location for about 15 minutes. And I tell you, I've seen a lot of ambulances leave that scene and a lot of ambulances come in to that scene. The ambulances coming in from areas throughout St. Louis County, west St. Louis County, La Due (ph), Monarch fire protection district, clearly this is a mutual aid situation for the ambulances and possibly the fire department. We've also been told there have been no injuries in this fire, but that doesn't explain why ambulances are leaving the scene with their sirens and red lights going. Perhaps firefighters are succumbing to the heat because of course it's very warm and they're wearing their heavy bunker units which are heavy wood, woolen coats to keep them from getting burned. The city at this point ...

BLITZER: We're going to break away from our affiliate coverage to bring in the mayor of St. Louis. Francis Slay is on the phone with us. Mayor, what's going on?

Mayor Slay, it's Wolf Blitzer in Washington. I hope you can hear me. Can you hear me?


BLITZER: Update our viewers, what we know, the origin of this fire and the extent of it, injuries. What do you know?

SLAY: So far, we are not aware of what the origin of the fire is yet. What we do know is so far, we are not aware of any injuries by any of the fire emergency personnel or anyone on site. So far that's what we know.

BLITZER: Because our affiliate reporters are saying they are seeing ambulances leaving the area with their sirens on, which would suggest that there may have been some injuries.

SLAY: Well, I can't account for that. I can tell you I'm here at command post at Ohio and Chouteau just a few blocks away talking with the chief of police and fire. And so far we are not aware of any injuries of anyone at this point.

BLITZER: Is there concern about the toxic nature of the flames and smoke that residents in the area maybe you yourself could be in danger given the nature of these fires?

SLAY: Yes, it is a concern, and I can tell you, first of all, what we're doing is evacuating a five-block area. We're also shutting down a number of roads, and we are monitoring the air particles around there at various locations to make sure that there is no hazardous materials emanating into the air. And so far we have not detected any.

BLITZER: Do you have enough equipment on the scene to deal with this blaze?

SLAY: I believe we have sufficient equipment here to do so. We've got not only -- we've got the mutual aid kicked in from jurisdictions throughout the St. Louis area, including our own fire department, and it looks to me right now they seem like they're keeping the blaze contained within the perimeter of the area where it's -- and the explosions and perimeter of where that business is located. We also have a helicopter, police helicopter, above, kind of tracking the debris that's going up in the air and seeing where it's landing to make sure that -- ancillary fires that are started. BLITZER: Is it your sense based on your conversations with the fire chief, that they're just going to have to wait to let this fire work itself out before they really can do much?

SLAY: That's correct. Basically, these are -- it's a highly volatile situation with these gases that are on site. They've got liquid tanks, as well as compressed tanks for different types of gases. And what they need to do is just as I am told, let this thing take its course, try to keep it contained in the perimeter, and then cool it down. And once it's cooled down, then they can go on premise and make sure that there is -- hopefully nobody inside that's injured. It looks like all the employees have been accounted for, so they don't believe anybody is inside. And then go further in making sure that they -- it doesn't go any further.

BLITZER: So, mayor, clearly the most important thing right now is to keep this fire contained and prevent it from spreading into some of the neighborhoods, the residential areas, around this industrial plant.

SLAY: That is correct. And as I said, they're in the process now of evacuating a radius of five blocks from the scene.

BLITZER: Is that enough, five blocks, given the nature of this fire?

SLAY: We believe it is, and, yeah, we're keeping a close - a view of this, not only on site but also in the air. There are not a lot of residents in the immediate area. It's mostly businesses and industrial, so there is not a huge amount of evacuation, but there are some residents within the five-block area.

BLITZER: Any indication - mayor, you said there was no indication of how this fire erupted. But is this an area that's prone to these kinds of fires?

SLAY: You know, I can't answer that question. I do know that this particular facility has a lot of volatile tanks and that involves in their business on a regular basis, and as far as I know, historically they have handled those things very well in a very safe manner. But we can't, at least at this point, speculate on what may have caused it.

BLITZER: And we can't speculate on whether it was simply an accident or if there was foul play, or what.

SLAY: That is correct. We don't know whether foul play has been involved or whether it was an accident of some sort.

BLITZER: What can you tell us, if anything, about Praxair Distribution?

SLAY: I'm sorry?

BLITZER: The plant, Praxair Distribution. Are you familiar with the track record of this company? SLAY: I can't speak to that at this point.

BLITZER: You're watching it. Well, mayor, you got a lot going on. I'll let you go back to work but you were kind to spend a few moments with us here on CNN. Good luck to you and good luck to all the people in South St. Louis, these fires clearly very, very dramatic, although it looks -- correct me if I'm wrong, mayor -- it looks like they have it contained into this area of the industrial park. Is that right?

SLAY: Yes. So far, that's the way it looks from here. And that's what I understand from the command post. I will tell you that the police and firefighters that are all out here are doing just a wonderful job.

BLITZER: Well, thank God for them, Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis on the scene, together with the fire chief and other local law enforcement authorities, first responders, dealing with this industrial plant fire in South St. Louis. We've been watching it here on CNN live for almost an hour or so. And you see the fire equipment in the area, the water being sent in to this area of this industrial plant to deal, as the mayor said, to try to get this fire contained so that it doesn't spread. But he also said there is concern that perhaps the toxic nature of the flames and the smoke could pose a hazard to people in the area as a result, they've evacuated residents and others from a five-block area surrounding this Praxair Distribution industrial plant in the south side of St. Louis, South St. Louis, which is not far from downtown St. Louis.

We spoke earlier with David Hunn from the "St. Louis Post- Dispatch," told us this is an area that's gotten a little bit of a comeback as residents are beginning to move back into this area, although it is industrial, clearly, and this is a plant that processes propane and other gases, lots of gas tanks there. And we've seen several vehicles that have simply burst into flames as well. I want to briefly listen in to see what our affiliates are telling their viewers.

HOUSKA: ... homes and buildings nearby taking the brunt of those explosions here. And feeling the heat. The heat is intense from a quarter mile away. I can only imagine what it is right next door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly. Just seeing these pictures, you know, it's upsetting enough. So I can't imagine for those who live and work in the area when this fire and explosion occurred. They are dealing with so many different elements, the heat. It's around 95 degrees. They have the wind, the gas, they have electrical lines. So there are so many factors in fighting this fire.

HOUSKA: I was going to say, Kelly, that's right. And I'm sure that's a major concern for the fire department here on the scene, just the intense heat around the area and the firefighters not being able to get into the area because of that intense heat. And as you can see, it has spread to this lot, this parking lot, nearby. So if that wasn't debris flying through the air, it's just the intense heat, heating up the vehicles next door and eventually catching them on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bill, take a break, catch your breath for a second. We want to bring in Susan Gore with Praxair. Susan, thank you very much. First and foremost, how are your co-workers, how is everyone at Praxair?

BLITZER: All right, we heard from Susan Gore earlier here on CNN. She's the director of corporate communications for Praxair which is the industrial processing plant that is now on fire in South St. Louis. Megan Lynch is with KMOX radio and she s on the phone with us. So Megan, what can you tell us?

MEGAN LYNCH, KMOX CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Well, right now it seems like the information is still so spotty. One of the things that I found very interesting about this though, as I talked to some of the witnesses, some of the residents that lived in the area they were the first ones, of course, to hear and to feel the explosions. The one gentleman said, the plaster roof in his house actually started to crumble and fall because of the intensity of these explosions that were only about two blocks away from where he lived.

When he started running, his son started running, and they said debris was flying through the air. They were just about hit by a section of the tank, one of the tanks that blew from that area. And of course, it sounded like fireworks going off there. That's how quickly the explosions were going off when this first occurred.

He was able to talk to some of the Praxair employees. Apparently they did have just barely seconds of warning that something was going to happen. They were able to hop the fences in that yard and get out of there, apparently, before anything happened.

BLITZER: Megan, we have heard reports that gas -- that propane gas tanks and other gas tanks simply were flying, hurtling, through the air as this fire and these explosions continued. Do you have any evidence of that? Have you seen that?

LYNCH: Yes. I got there maybe about ten minutes after it all started. And it was still going strong, I would say for another 15 minutes after that. Every time one of these explosions would rock the area, you could feel the intense heat. I mean, I was two blocks away and it was at least ten degrees hotter than it was from further away. You could see just these bushing flames that were going, I'd say, at least three stories high. Of course the smoke was so thick and black; it was at least eight to ten stories high and just a huge, thick column. And then debris was just spiraling out. And it was flying for at least two blocks, some of the debris that was coming out of the area of the immediate fire.

BLITZER: Where are you right now, Megan?

LYNCH: I have actually moved away. They moved us at least four blocks back. They kept pushing everyone back from the scene, obviously for safety reasons. They've set up a command post, so that's where I've moved to. I'm actually a little bit to the south of the fire at this point, trying to get a little bit more information from our mayor and from the fire department on exactly what they're going to do, coming up over the next few hours, to try to contain this.

BLITZER: We spoke with the mayor just a few moments ago, Francis Slay, who said he is concerned about the potentially toxic nature of the smoke and the flames and the problems that this could have for individuals, even like himself and you who are in the area. What does it smell like at the location that you're at?

LYNCH: You know, it's acrid, but I would say the location where I'm at, the wind is not blowing in my direction. So I have a little bit more benefit in that means. But of course, St. Louis, it is so humid. And if the wind stops in any manner, it's going to be oppressive down here because of that smoke, because it is still so strong.

BLITZER: It's something that probably doesn't occur very often in St. Louis. The mayor says this area generally is pretty good. What's your experience? How long have you covered St. Louis?

LYNCH: You know, I've been in this region almost a decade, and I would have to agree. And I even asked some of the residents, I said, have you ever known of an incident like this? And they said no. And in fact, one gentleman said at Praxair at first (ph) there was a gas station that sits not too far from Praxair, so really that was not their first concern, apparently. You know, last industrial problem we had was actually on the east side of the Mississippi River, probably about half an hour away from St. Louis. So this is not an area where I would say we've had problems like this for years.

BLITZER: Is it your sense that the fire is now contained and they are just going to let it burn itself out?

LYNCH: I haven't heard any more explosions, so I would assume at this point that it was -- I guess you could say contained. Though it still seems like for this kind of fire, it's still fairly strong.

BLITZER: What is the weather like in St. Louis today? Is it unusually hot day or just a nice day?

LYNCH: It is hot and humid. We have reached that point of the year here where, you know, the humidity is soaring. Everyone I've talked to, they're just dripping sweat. They are just soaked with sweat because of standing outside. There is a lot of people that are starting to get a little frantic because they can't get (unintelligible), you know, they can't find a phone or get to a place where they can get some relief.

BLITZER: Looks like these gas tanks are still burning in the area. We're looking at these live pictures courtesy of our affiliates in St. Louis. And we have several excellent affiliates there that have been showing us these dramatic pictures now for more than an hour. Megan Lynch is with KMOX Radio. I'll let you get back to KMOX, Megan. Thanks very much for helping our viewers here on CNN get a better appreciation of what's going on.

LYNCH: Not a problem. Thank you.

BLITZER: Megan Lynch with KMOX radio. Now, I want to update our viewers who may just be tuning in, these are live pictures you are seeing from an industrial plant in South St. Louis, not far from downtown St. Louis. A fire erupted about 3:00 p.m. -- little after 3:00 p.m. Central Time, little after 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time at this industrial plant, Praxair Distribution, which processes propane, oxygen, other very flammable gases, gas tanks there for industrial use.

The fire -- the pictures, if you saw them earlier -- maybe we can bring those earlier pictures to our viewers -- were so dramatic. Here they are. Take a look at how these explosions, one after another, simply rocked this area of South St. Louis. It was so powerful, so dramatic with these fireballs simply going way into the sky, and then the black smoke beginning to move as the winds from different areas -- different directions carried the smoke throughout this part of South St. Louis.

It's mostly an industrial area, although there are some residential blocks not far away. The mayor of St. Louis, Francis Slay, told us here on CNN just a little while ago that he believes all of the employees in this industrial plant were evacuated safely. Doesn't know of any injuries, although some of our local reporters said they did see ambulances leaving the scene with their sirens on, which would suggest that perhaps there are some injuries in the area. But we don't have that - certainly, we don't have that confirmed.

Maybe David Hunn with the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," who is on the scene there, maybe he has some additional information for us. David, what can you tell us viewers?

DAVID HUNN, "ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH": I just want to say I got preliminary hearings from the mayor's office that no one was hurt, no bystanders or pedestrians at this point.

BLITZER: That's excellent news, because a fire like this with those explosions potentially could have hurt and even killed lots of people. Fortunately, people did get out of the way, and did evacuate -- get out of the area. What else are you hearing, David?

HUNN: Well, police are beginning to get worried about the fumes. You can smell rubber and smoke and they're drifting well north at this point. And I've heard several police officers talk about their concern for public safety in the air quality.

BLITZER: What is the air quality, based on -- you're there, you're only a few blocks away. What do you smell?

HUNN: I smell burning rubber, sometimes smoke, though more burning rubber than anything. And it's 100 -- maybe mid 90s? High 90s, anyway? So it's hot and humid, and ...

BLITZER: So it's a lot hotter near that fire where you are. Can you feel the smoke getting toward you? Are your eyes feeling that smoke? HUNN: The closer you are, the worse your eyes get. It's okay where I am now. We've been pushed back pretty far.

BLITZER: So you're basically near that command center that the mayor, the fire chief, the local law enforcement have set up only a few blocks away. Is that where you are?

HUNN: Yeah, I am. I'm behind the command center right now.

BLITZER: Is it your sense -- and the mayor seemed to think that they probably had this fire contained to the area of the industrial park right now, that it doesn't necessarily represent a significant direct threat to the immediate surrounding blocks, even though they've evacuated a five-block area. Is it your sense the fire is now contained?

HUNN: I get that sense, although the damage looks like it could have been more widespread. I know at least of some reports of tanks going through homes.

BLITZER: Because of tanks were literally shot into the air?

HUNN: You got it.

BLITZER: And were almost like missiles. Is that right?

HUNN: You got it.

BLITZER: So this could have been so much worse under the circumstances. It looks awful to begin with. If it's just structural or property damage, that's one thing. But fortunately, based on these preliminary reports we're get from the mayor, from the corporate communications spokeswoman for Praxair Distribution itself, from David Hunn of the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," and from Megan Lynch of KMOX Radio, all of these people have told CNN within the past hour it looks like there are no injuries, but obviously this is preliminary information. First reports in a military situation as well as in an emergency situation like this, first reports can and often are wrong. So we'll just have to wait and see to get the exact information, the specific information. Anything else you want to share with us.

HUNN: Here comes the mayor. Thank you so much.

BLITZER: I think David Hunn of the "St. Louis Dispatch" had to run. He's doing some reporting for his own newspaper in the area as well. These are aerial shots courtesy of our affiliate. This is a live picture. And if you look at this picture now and compare it to what we saw a half hour ago, certainly an hour or so ago here on CNN, it's clearly calmed down.

This is what we saw earlier as these fires at this industrial plant literally exploded and one series of explosions triggered another series of explosions, it went on for minutes and minutes, and minutes. Fortunately, we're being told, the damage is structural and the property damage, but it is clearly -- it is clearly something that could have been so much worse. We're told that there are no immediate reports of injuries.

Dr. Paul Jellis is on the phone with us. Dr. Jellis, you're an expert in these kinds of chemical -- the chemical nature of the toxicity of these kinds of flames and fires. You teach at St. Louis University. What can you tell us about the danger from these kinds of flames and this kind of smoke?

DR. PAUL JELLIS, ST. LOUIS UNIVERSITY (on phone): Well, on a hot day like this it's going to be very unpleasant such a wide spread fire. A lot of things will be burning aside from the original flammable gases and releasing a lot of unpleasant toxic materials into the air in the local area.

BLITZER: It's one thing to release these toxic gases into the area. But what if individuals breathe in these toxic gases? How dangerous potentially is it to reporters, firefighters, law enforcement authorities, the mayor, residents, anyone else who happens to be in this area?

JELLIS: Well, I've only got a rough idea of some of the things that were there. It certainly could be an unpleasant experience to breathe in some of these materials, but I believe the area has been evacuated, and certainly most people will be out of danger. Of course, the firefighters still have to deal with the situation.

BLITZER: The firefighters are on the front lines, as they always are. If they breathe in these flames, let's say propane gas, is that something that they should worry about?

JELLIS: It's certainly something that they want to avoid. But it's usually the products of combustion that are somewhat nasty. Propane is -- it is not likely at this point to be very much propane left in fact. It looks like probably a lot of the most flammable gases have probably burned and exploded.

BLITZER: You've seen these pictures, these live pictures on television. I assume, Dr. Jellis. How long would it take in your opinion for this fire to burn itself out?

JELLIS: Well, I really don't know how much material is being stored at that particular facility. The fire is so large it could burn for quite a while. I would assume that the most flammable substances, such as the hydrogen and is the acetylene will probably -- those containers that have been punctured and that released their contents have probably burned by now.

BLITZER: That's because they burn quickly and then it's over with? Is that right?

JELLIS: Yes. That's the cause of a lot of the explosions, is the hydrogen and acetylene are extremely unstable, they react with oxygen in the air and release a lot of energy very quickly. That's the cause of most of the explosions we've been hearing.

BLITZER: I assume, Dr. Jellis, that similar plants, propane gas distribution facilities, processing plants around the United States are going to be taking a look at this fire and they're going to be saying to themselves, what, if anything, do they have to do to make sure it doesn't happen again. What immediate advice do you have?

JELLIS: Well, obviously they have to look very closely at what the initial cause of the initial explosion was, because obviously once that happened it set off a chain reaction of explosions. And it's going to be very important for the authorities and fire department to figure out exactly what caused that initial explosion.

BLITZER: Based on your experience, they're just going to have to pour water in there and let this fire burn itself out, and that will be that. Is that right?

JELLIS: Unfortunately, yeah. They've just got to keep at it and prevent it from spreading.

BLITZER: That's the most important thing. Dr. Paul Jellis teaches at St. Louis University in St. Louis. You're a professor of chemistry. Is that right, Dr. Jellis?

JELLIS: That's correct, yes.

BLITZER: All right. Well, thank you very much for giving us some perspective on the nature of this fire. Dr. Paul Jellis of St. Louis University. Appreciate it very much.

Throughout this hour, we've been showing our viewers these live pictures from St. Louis, South St. Louis, an industrial park where a fire, a huge fire, erupted nearly two hours ago. It still continues. It has not yet burnt itself out. Fortunately, we are being told, preliminary reports to the mayor to others, that there are no injuries, although, once again, these are preliminary reports.

We have been told by Praxair Distribution that all of the employees have been evacuated. Normally about 70 people work at this industrial plant. All have been evacuated. We don't know how many were working on this Friday afternoon in St. Louis whether this fire erupted.

Once again, once again, we don't know the cause of this fire, and this chain reaction of explosions. But it looks like the fire is effectively contained, and the smoke will continue -- the fire will burn itself out, and that will be that. We will continue to monitor all of these activities here on CNN. Want to thank all of our viewers for joining us.

I am Wolf Blitzer in Washington. See you Sunday on LATE EDITION. Kitty Pilgrim filling in for Lou Dobbs. LOU DOBBS TONIGHT starts right now. Kitty is about to pick up our coverage.