Blast, Fire Kill Two at Tank Farm

Blast, Fire Kill Two at Tank Farm

Tank trailer in center of devastated area is believed to be where the fire started. Only saddles of four horizontal tanks remain in position. Horizontal tank that rocketed from its saddle made hole in large tank at upper center of photo.Big streams play on tanks to prevent them from being ignited as flames filled the entire dike area.End of tank that hurtled through the air rests between the tanks it damaged.

Los Angeles County F.D. photos

Los Angeles County and City fire fighters battled a volatile and stubborn fire at the Fletcher Oil and Refining Company in the City of Carson, Calif., on March 27.

The spectacular explosion and fire near Los Angeles Harbor claimed the lives of two workers, caused injuries to numerous firemen and civilians, and did $1 million damage to the refinery and tank farm layout.

Investigators have not determined the cause, and the only men working at the loading dock where the fire apparently started are dead. It is possible that tank No. 602, which was being filled with casing head gas, exploded, resulting in the ignition and spread of fire around adjacent tanks, a tank truck and a trailer.

Apparatus dispatched

Los Angeles County’s Headquarters Dispatch Center at 5:27 p.m. received numerous calls reporting “unknown explosion and fire near 228th and Main Streets.” The units dispatched were Engines 36, 127, 95, Truck 127 (85-foot elevating platform), Foam 127 (5,000 cfm high expansion foam), Rescue Squad 36 and Battalion Chief Wray Nansel.

Los Angeles City also received calls and dispatched two engines, a truck, a rescue squad and a battalion chief.

On arrival, county crews found the fire encompassed a change house, a skimmer pond, Tank 602, three horizontal tanks containing either butane or casing head fuel, and three 24,000-barrel tanks containing gasoline, diesel fuel and a nearly empty tank which had held top crude.

Fire also threatened the cooling tower, a 6,000-barrel tank of naphtha, and other storage facilities holding JP-4, crude and other products—a nasty situation facing the first-in units.

Pre-fire planning called for companies to lay dual reverses, and Engine 36 pulled in the yard and started the lay. Nansel radioed for a second alarm before arrival, and Engines 105 and 6, Rescue 6, Battalion Chief Robert Spalty and Division Assistant Chief Ralph Russell were dispatched.

Fireball erupts

Nansel pulled in ahead of Engine 36 and was on foot with his driver making the size-up when a butane tank apparently exploded and caused a huge fire ball which appeared to be 1,000 feet across and went up for 100 feet. The radiated heat spread the fire and resulted in numerous burns to firemen and spectators. The first two L.A. City units, Engines 85 and 38, came in from the opposite side as county attack forces and several men were badly burned.

After the explosion, Nansel, the city crews, and the crew of Engine 36 ran for their lives. Ladders on Engine 36 were burned, as was upholstery in the battalion chief’s car.

As he ran, Nansel used his walkietalkie to request ambulances and additional equipment. The third alarm brought Engines 209, 41, 245, 51, Foam 3 and 47, Truck 45, Utilities 1, 7, 9 and 10, Division Chief Walter Meagher and Deputy Chief George Brunton. Helicopter 4 and other service units and personnel also responded, making the fire one of the county’s largest non-brush fire alarms in recent years.

The explosion sent the four horizontal tanks rocketing through the refinery, doing varying degrees of damage.

More companies arrive

Meanwhile, additional L.A. City units were moving in to work the south side of the fire. Division Chief Ben Renfro commanded 13 city engines, one truck, four foam units, one rescue squad, two rescue ambulances, a helicopter and service units. The L.A. City units laid 2,500 feet of 3 1/2-inch hose and 12,800 feet of 2 1/2.

County units attacked the other portion of the fire and managed to keep it from consuming other tanks and buildings. The fire was knocked down at 9:30 p.m., but shortly before midnight, sparks from timbers buried under high expansion foam set a pool of oil on fire at the south side. In moments, flames 75 feet high lapped up the back side of a 2,400-barrel tank filled with 91-octane gasoline. Several released units were recalled. Battalion Chief Ron King moved men within 25 feet of the tank and, using high expansion and protein foam and heavy hose streams, extinguished the fire without further incident.

County units made 24 separate hose lays, using 16,400 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose.

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