October 25, 2014

Calif. propane tank car fire forces mass evacuation

UPDATE: Fire officials said at 10:30 p.m., Pacific time, Wednesday, Aug. 24, that the effort to siphon the remaining propane from the burning tank car has been successful and that the evacuation order should be rescinded before dawn Aug. 25.

LINCOLN, Calif. – A tank car filled with 29,000 pounds of liquid propane was on fire Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 24, in a propane company facility here and thousands of nearby residents have been evacuated in this Sacramento suburb out of fear of an explosion.

Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt is quoted by MSNBC that a buildup of heat could lead to an explosion compared to a “small thermal nuclear bomb” that produces a fireball several hundred yards wide and which could expel metal shrapnel for a mile.

Firefighters reportedly were aiming four fire hoses on the tank car to keep the heat from building.

An additional 170,000 pounds of liquid propane stored in the yard is reported to be at risk of catching fire, and a natural gas pipeline runs nearby.

The Associated Press reports 4,800 homes are in the mandatory evacuation area and firefighters were attempting to siphon propane from the tank car in what was described as a “bold maneuver.” A national response team from Houston, Texas, was flown to the site to assist firefighters.

Local news reports say the blaze, in the yard of Northern Propane Energy, could continue for 21 days if the remaining propane is not siphoned from the tank car or if the blaze cannot be extinguished. Local schools have been closed until Monday.

MSNBC reports a similar propane tank car fire and explosion in Kingman, Ariz., in 1973 killed 11 firefighters and a gas company worker.

KCRA television reports Lincoln, a town of 40,000, has been turned into “a ghost town with empty streets and no signs of life.”

MSNBC reports that the effort to siphon the propane involves cutting the outer layer of the tanker and welding a pipe to the side, with stem then pushed inside to force out propane into a freshly dug basin.

Retired UTU General Secretary & Treasurer Dan Johnson lives about 1.5 miles from the fire and about 1/2 mile outside the evacuation zone. Johnson said he and his wife, Jan, are not affected by the fire and that they were following events via local televsion news reporting.