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Today in fire history: BLEVE results in 2 firefighter deaths

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Apr 9, 2012

On April 9, 1998, a fire was reported at a large turkey farm near Albert City, Iowa.  The fire began when an ATV driven by teenagers struck two pipelines carrying liquid propane from an 18,000-gallon (68m3) LP-Gas tank, creating a leak.  The ensuing cloud of vapor was ignited, however, the teens were able to escape the area and call 911.  The fire department arrived and began to set up operations to protect exposed buildings with hose lines.  Because there was no water supply in the area, a tanker shuttle operation was implemented.  Meanwhile, the gas venting from the pressure relief valves on the tank created a loud noise similar to a jet engine, making communications on the fireground difficult.  The fire chief indicated that the plan was to allow the tank to burn itself out and protect exposed structures from positions 90 to 100 feet (27 to 31 meters) from the tank.  As this plan was being implemented, about 7 minutes after the fire department arrived, an explosion occurred, sending large sections of the tank flying in four different directions.  One large piece of the tank struck two firefighters who were about 100 feet (31 meters) away from the tank.

On the basis of the fire investigation, the NFPA determined that the following were significant factors directly contributing to the explosion and firefighter deaths.

  • Lack of protection around the LP tank installation and associated equipment; this lack of protection allowed the ATV to strike the piping
  • The impingement of flame on the propane tank, causing the tank shell to weaken and fail
  • The close proximity of fire department operations to the LP tank while the tank was being exposed to direct flame contact
  • The lack of an adequate reliable water supply
  • The decision, given the lack of an adequate water supply, to protect the exposed buildings and not relocate all personnel to a safe location.

NFPA members can download the full investigation report for free, and all site visitors can download a summary in English or Spanish.   

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