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Our View: Apex hazardous-waste fire suggests a closer look at state regulations.

Call it dumb luck or call it divine providence. Either way, it’s astonishing that nobody died because of the spectacular fire that started with a series of explosions on Thursday night, destroying a hazardous-waste storage facility in Apex.

If North Carolina regulators and legislators are wise, they’ll make it much less likely that anyone has to take that chance again.

As many as 17,000 Apex residents evacuated their homes during the fire and fled to safer accommodations elsewhere. By Saturday morning, they were allowed to return. Officials said 44 people, including some firefighters, were treated at local emergency rooms, mostly for breathing problems. Most were released from hospitals by Friday night.

The facility’s owner — EQ Industrial Services — specializes in the disposal of hazardous waste. Its Apex plant handles wastes that include paints, solvents, chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, sulfur and fertilizers. During the fire, a dense, yellow cloud hovered over the blaze and adjoining neighborhoods. Another stroke of good luck — a steady rain that began Friday morning — helped clear the air and avert more widespread problems.

Last week’s Apex fire wasn’t a new experience for EQ Industrial Services. The privately held firm, with headquarters near Detroit, had a similar fire last year at one of its suburban Detroit plants. About 2,000 people were evacuated and 32 were sent to hospitals for treatment.

In March, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources fined the firm $32,000 for six violations of state regulations. EQ failed “to maintain and operate the facility to minimize the possibility of a sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous waste … which could threaten human health or the environment,” the DENR citation said. (more…)