A raging three-alarm fire at the Drexel Chemical Company, at 155 West Bodley Avenue, forced the evacuation of hundreds of citizens of south Memphis on the morning of July 5, 1979. Fire fighters battled the blaze from afar with heavy stream devices, knowing that the building was loaded with railroad tank cars and drums full of various chemicals, including a poison called methyl parathion. Within twenty minutes, police and Civil Defense carried out an evacuation of the entire area bounded on the north by South Parkway, on the east by Elvis Presley Boulevard, on the south by Raines Road, and on the west by the Mississippi River. Temporary shelters were set up for thousands of people who had to flee their homes and businesses. Also, thousands of gallons of runoff water used from the fire was contaminated by poisonous chemicals and had to be contained and neutralized. At one point, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency requested that the fire department shut down several hose streams in an effort to reduce the hazardous runoff. Because there was little danger of the fire spreading, Director Robert Walker ordered many lines to be shut down. The fire was finally brought under control with relatively few injuries and little property damage beyond the chemical plant, but the fire department had to recover from the loss of hundreds of feet of fire hose and a large amount of protective fire clothing contaminated in the fire.

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