"Fire in the sky" over Hopewell plant

Published: Oct. 1, 2012 at 9:09 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 6, 2012 at 9:09 PM EDT
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HOPEWELL, VA (WWBT) - An unusual, orange cloud floating ominously over the Honeywell plant in Hopewell startled many nearby residents.

Honeywell plant officials say it was an unexpected burst of nitrogen oxide. Spokesman John McCarthy says that nitrogen oxide is also emitted by cars, and the cloud doesn't pose a health risk.

However, this sudden "burp" of nitrogen oxide had people nearby very concerned.

Mike Williams says he was fishing nearby, when he noticed the orange gas floating above.

"It scared me because I didn't know what it was. I almost started to run," said Williams. He snapped a picture with his cell phone. Many viewers also sent NBC12 pictures of the startling scene.

The 84-year-old plant went into emergency mode. The factory's sirens rang out. Employees were told to stay put, as "shelter-in-place" mode went into effect.

"First, I heard the alarm go off… So, I came outside to be nosey, and it looked like fire," described Sergio Alvarez, who lives down the road from the factory.

Firefighters rushed to the Honeywell plant; however, the nitrogen oxide release was quickly contained. Honeywell officials say the gas is routinely given off at permitted levels, but this burst went over the limit.

Some people in the neighborhood say they're used to living by power plants. The Hopewell Dominion power station is within half a mile from the Honeywell plant.

Honeywell officials say they're investigating what caused the nitrogen oxide release. They say the plant is the largest producer of a material used to make nylon in the world.

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