On Sunday, November 25, 1990, a fire occurred at a flammable liquid tank farm supporting Denver’s Stapleton International Airport. Seven tanks were destroyed or damaged, and over 1.6 million gallons of jet fuel were consumed. At approximately 9:22 a.m., the Stapleton control tower saw smoke in the area of the tank farm and called the fire department. Upon arrival, airport firefighters found a large pool fire in a pit containing piping and valves. In addition there was flaming fuel which was apparently under pressure, spewing high into the air. Fire suppression efforts were hampered by the complexity of the initial fire scenario, the eventual magnitude of the fire, and adverse weather conditions. By Tuesday morning, November 27, the majority of available fuel had been consumed, and a private company specializing in the suppression of petroleum fires extinguished the remaining fire. Local investigators believe that a damaged pump in the valve pit near the storage tanks may have caused the initial leak and may have ignited the fuel.
According to NFPA’s investigation, several changes to the tank farm site could have favorably impacted the outcome of this incident, including:
- Increased distance between tanks and the pumping/valve area
- Increased tank shell to tank shell separation
- Provisions for the removal of fuel in the event the storage tanks’ primary discharge means becomes inoperable