Federal investigators want judge to order release of documents in two Harris County chemical fires

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The federal Chemical Safety Board wants a judge to order Harris County to turn over documents related to its investigation into two recent chemical fires, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Federal prosecutors filed a petition on Wednesday in Houston seeking to force Harris County Fire Marshall Laurie L. Christensen to turn over documents that could help their investigation. Prosecutors argued the safety board’s efforts have been stymied by Christensen because the county has failed to turn over documents even after it was issued administrative subpoenas, the newspaper reported. 

Dan Tillema, the investigator in charge, wrote in an affidavit that the investigation has been harmed by “hostility and entrenchment of the county’s asserted legal positions.”  

Fire marshal office spokeswoman Rachel Moreno told the Chronicle that an opinion from the Texas attorney general’s office “stated that certain information could not be released because it is a part of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The Harris County Attorney’s Office also told the fire marshal’s office that releasing the information to the CSB would interfere with its investigation and possible prosecution of crimes involved in the fires., Moreno said.

The CSB sent six investigators to Harris County following a March 17 fire and explosion at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. complex in Deer Park that engulfed 11 chemical storage tanks. The incident sent a massive plume of hazardous smoke into the air and caused the temporary closure of the Houston Ship Channel and warnings from officials that nearby residents should stay in their homes. 

CSB is also investigating a fire at the KMCO chemical plant in Crosby that occurred two weeks later. The Chronicle reported that the fire killed one worker and injured more than 30 others.

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