Today in fire history: eight die in LP gas tank explosion

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Dec 23, 2011

On December 23, 1988, a propane tank truck overturned on a highway in a populated section of Memphis, Tennessee and released a vapor cloud.  The cloud was ignited, burning several buildings adjacent to the highway and several automobiles.  Eight civilians died and nine others were injured.  The vapor cloud ignition also resulted in a BLEVE of the propane tank.

The accident occurred in the city limits of Memphis on an exit ramp with a sharp turn.  While negotiating the turn, the driver (who reportedly had a good driving record) apparently lost control of the vehicle.  The truck rolled over and skidded for a distance.  The tank was punctured and propane was released.  The vapor cloud spread over several hundred feet of the highway.  Investigators believe the vapor cloud may have been ignited when it seeped into one of the houses on the side of the highway.  The ensuing fireball ignited other houses and spread across the highway traffic.   When the burning vapor reached the propane tank, a BLEVE occurred.  One piece of the tank traveled about 360 feet from the accident and struck a house.

In addition to the truck driver, two occupants of one house and an occupant of another house were killed.  Four people in automobiles also died in the fire.  Six houses, one industrial building, and thirteen vehicles were burned.

NFPA members can read the full investigation report.