TOXIC CLOUD Sulphuric smoke affected about 25 villages.

Firefighters and U.S. Army engineers were close to declaring victory July 8 over a stubborn fire at a sulfur plant near Mosul, Iraq, that has burned since June 25, spewing toxic fumes that killed two residents of nearby villages and forced the evacuation of the surrounding area.

At the height of the effort at the Misraq State Sulfur Plant, 20 miles south of Mosul, soldiers and engineers from the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team and the 326 Engineer Battalion, home based in Ft. Campbell, Ky., and the 938th Fire Fighting Detachment, an Army National Guard unit based in Driggs, Id., were working around the clock alongside 57 Iraqi firefighters and 50 civilian volunteers. They needed 22 bulldozers, 16 dump trucks, five loaders and six scrapers to contain and smother the fire under dirt and foam.

EQUIPMENT BUILDUP 22 bulldozers were used to berm the blaze.

The Iraqi firefighters doused flames and cooled the ground so the engineers could drive dump trucks and bulldozers close to the fire, pushing berms in from the north and south to complete an enclosure. They expected to use a total of 13,000 gallons of foam to extinguish the blaze.

According to division medical personnel, the sulfuric smoke showed a concentration of 52 particles of sulfur per million in the area surrounding the fire shortly after it began. A reading of 30 ppm or greater is considered dangerous, especially to the elderly, asthmatic and young children. An elderly woman and a small child have died from smoke related complications. About 25 villages and the cities of Qayyarah, Al Shurah and Makhmur have been affected by the fumes.

The cause is under invistigation.

(Photos courtesy of U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division)