The Associated Press

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (AP) - A fire broke out Thursday at a chemical plant near Detroit, sending flames and black smoke hundreds of feet into the air and forcing a nearby expressway to be closed.

A Hamtramck fire department employee said the fire broke out about 11:30 a.m. The employee, who didn't identify himself, said Detroit and Highland Park fire departments have been called in to aid his city's firefighters.

The fire is at Sterling Services, a company involved in the biofuel business.

There were no reports of injuries.

"I saw it burning out of the office window. It's been burning since about 11 o'clock. There were a couple of pops, three pops now," said Tom Lijana, who works at an office about 300 yards from the plant. He said his company, the Bing Group, hadn't been told to evacuate as of about 12:20 p.m.

A Detroit police officer at the scene who didn't give his name said authorities have started evacuating homes in Hamtramck and Detroit, which surrounds Hamtramck.

The plant is in an industrial area with several small factories, and workers from nearby businesses paused to watch the blaze.

The company has no history of violations with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, agency spokesman Robert McCann said.

He said the company is registered as a bulk petroleum facility that stores large quantities of gasoline or other fuels.

"We haven't had any issues with them in the past," McCann said.

State or federal environmental officials will monitor air quality at the scene, he said.

Sterling Services Ltd. is a subsidiary of Southfield-based Sterling Oil&Chemical Co. Inc., according to a company Web site. The Hamtramck facility is on more than five acres and has a storage capacity of about 5 million gallons.