Neighbors were aghast as flames engulfed a 60,000-barrel gasoline storage tank at the American Oil Refinery Monday afternoon.
It turned out the tank was nearly empty and never in danger of exploding. But nearby residents didn't know that at the time."Scared me to death," said Scott Golding, 1461 Beck St. "That'll level this whole town. I've lived here for 12 years now, boy, it makes me nervous, nervous. It's the second time I've seen this sort of deal."
This corner of the Amoco Refinery is close to the intersection of Everett Avenue (1450 North) and Hot Springs Street (700 West).
Firefighters and hazardous materials teams from Salt Lake City, North Salt Lake, the Utah Highway Patrol and Amoco's own special fire brigade brought the blaze under control in about an hour. They shot streams of water and fire-retardant foam into the gigantic tank, which can hold 2.52 million gallons. It was used to store unleaded gasoline.
About 110 feet up, atop a ladder raised by a ladder truck, an observer peered into the burning gasoline and spoke by radio to the firefighters on the hoses, directing the streams of foam.
An acrid smell of burning rubber wafted from the tank, but by 2:45 p.m. the fire was out and only a huge scorch mark on the side of the tank showed where it had burned.
Randy Couch, manager of Amoco's Salt Lake City Business Unit, said the tank was nearly empty and was being vacuumed out for repair work when the fire started. Workers were outside the tank at the time, he said.
"We're thinking that maybe it was some kind of static charge (that started the fire), but we really don't know," he said. Damage will probably range between $50,000 and $100,000.
Salt Lake Fire Battalion Chief Gordon Nicholl said the first reports were that at least two workers were inside the tank when the fire started but managed to get out safely. The fire began under a huge lid that was sitting on legs 6 feet above the floor, he said. This lid can float upward as the tank is filled.
"The fire got up around the seal; it's a rubber type seal," Nicholl said. "The whole underside of the lid was consumed with fire." As the seal burned, the heat under the lid caused it to fail and drop down.
"We did get the fire out under the lid just before it collapsed," he said. Then the problem was to put out the fire above the lid, accomplished by directing the streams of four hoses into the tank.
Firemen worried that if the fire was not controlled, the lid might have blown off. "We would have had a great big flying saucer," he said. "Where it would have gone, nobody knows."
Couch said not enough gasoline was inside to blow off the lid.
Couch and Nicholl agreed that none of the other gigantic nearby tanks were in danger.
Other neighbors of the refinery were also upset about the fire. "I was about ready to get in the car and head out," said Cal Marchant.
"That's spooky, that's spooky," added John Curtis.