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Aug 24, 2012

What caused the fire at the butane depot?

A fire at the Western Gas Depot was brought under control at about seven o’clock on Thursday night. It was a dangerous operation that risked the lives of the firemen because it involved liquid petroleum gas. The blaze started from a gas leak in the compressor room. Neighbors say the fire started after five o’clock. News Five’s Andrea Polanco was at the scene of the fire and has the following report.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

When the fire started at the Western Gas compound on the Western Highway, flames were high; commuters said they could be seen almost a mile away. Most residents in the area moved from the immediate vicinity; the parking lot at Bravo Motors was already empty by the time we arrived on the scene. Traffic was halted from both directions, for over thirty minutes. This footage, shot with a mobile phone, shows the blaze at its highest point.  A resident who lives across from the blaze told us she called 911.

 

Voice of: Resident

“When I call, dehn say dehn done send the fire truck. When we come out deh suh, the fire dah mi wah; I cyaa tell yuh the height—the fire dah mi like wah foot over the two tank deh, ih mi deh.  And dah mi wah small fire.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Suh now, before you come outta your house, you hear like wah sound, wah noise, anything?”

 

Voice of: Resident

“My son mi gwein dah town suh he mi deh outta the house and he come back in and say mommy wah big fire deh out over deh and dat dah how we come out. Deh start to tek out deh thing long after the fire di blaze.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Dat dah Bravo?”

 

Voice of: Resident

“Yeh and I si deh move one ah the truck deh weh come in come bring the gas right.”

 

Ted Smith

The fire department responded shortly after. Upon our arrival at the fire scene, firemen were still working hard at containing the blaze. Assistant Fire Chief, Ted Smith, was on the scene, and said they acted as soon as the call was made.

 

Ted Smith, Assistant Fire Chief, National Fire Service

“The fire department never had a problem with response and arrival; it’s just the situation that you meet upon the arrival and the capacity that you have, what you can get done. In this case, the explosion happened long before the department was even aware of the explosion or the fire. The fire department responded and within four minutes the fire department was on the scene here. We received the call at seventeen nineteen and at seventeen twenty-three the first truck was on the scene and shortly after information were relayed to me about the nature of the fire and I responded.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So you are satisfied with the way the firemen handled this situation?”

 

Ted Smith

“Oh I am very much satisfied; these gentlemen went out there and put their lives on the line without fear to contain those tanks from blevy. There was a high, high possibility that one of those tanks would blevy and cause massive explosion in the area. If you look at the extent of fire damage and these tanks were filled then you would understand what the situation was.”

 

While risk is a part of any fireman’s life; this one was very risky.

 

Ted Smith

“This particular one was very risky; if we had a blevy, all, all of us would not be here today.”

 

And while the public questioned the department’s ability, Smith said that the fire fighters fought to contain the fire and not necessarily to put out the blaze; this one, he explains is different from the everyday house fires.

 

Ted Smith

“LPG is what we call Liquefied Petroleum Gas; it doesn’t sit on the ground. It is a liquid store under pressure. Its boiling point is forty below zero; for you to comprehend that, you need to understand what is the boiling point of water which is two hundred and twelve degrees. When that gas is released, or that liquid is released, because it boils at such a low temperature, you see a gas that will sit in the air but it won’t sit on the ground for you to spread a foam blanket to cover. What we were doing in the fire fight was trying to keep the tanks cool; we were not trying to extinguish the fire with the water. That would be very, very stupid on our part because then the gas would not stop flow and then we could have what you call a flash back and kill all of us. The idea was to keep the tanks cool from blevying and then set up ourselves so that we can send in individuals to locate and close off the valves, which is very risky but part of the job. We did it and we did it well.”

 

But what exactly caused the fire? Smith said it started in the compressor room that sits between the stationary tanks on the compound. The six by eight structure wasn’t properly ventilated.

 

Ted Smith

“The investigation has concluded. The result of the fire was due to a gas leak within the compressor room. The ignition source was as a result of a contactor source which was within the compressor room. The gas leak occurred, the compressor room was not properly ventilated and therefore the gas remains and settled within the room and when the young man engaged the switch to continue the transfer of product into the stationary tank. The contactor created a spark and an ignition source was available causing the fire.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“The compressor room that you are talking about, that is a separate shed on the compound?”

 

Ted Smith

“Yeah it is mostly called the bulkhead, using the term the LPG people would use. It was the building that was between the two tanks that the fire was and that building is where the compressor and pumps are mounted on the same slab of cement.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

 

No comment could be achieved from employees of Western Gas since the owner is out of the country.

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1 Response for “What caused the fire at the butane depot?”

  1. Storm says:

    I’m relieved nobody died this time.

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