Fighting Gas Well and Oil Fires
Some Practical Suggestions Which Have Proven Their Worth in Practice—Effective Method of Handling the Gas Well Fire
GAS well and oil fires are closely linked. As a matter of fact, many oil field fires start with the ignition of gas blown off from the oil wells. Hence what may be said about handling the fire in the gas well will also be of value to those interested in oil fires.
For many years gas well fires defied the forces attempting to extinguish them. But as time passed, and more engineers gave attention to the subject of gas well fire extinguishment, methods were devised and which are now proving satisfactory. They are not entirely new, but the methods of application differ.
The Gas Well Fire
Gas is discharged from oil wells and gas wells under very high pressure. In many cases it carries with it fine particles of crude oil. So great is the pressure that a jet of gas and atomized oil may be thrown several hundred feet in the air.
When such a well takes fire, intense heat is generated, so much so that it is dangerous for men to operate at close range. Such fires are very spectacular at night, and in many cases are visible for a hundred miles.
The great heat, the roar produced by the burning gas well, and in general the tremenduous power it represents at first awed those working around such wells with a result that in the early days many wells were permitted to burn for weeks and even months before being extinguished.
Nowadays, it is a matter of but a few days until the average gas well fire is extinguished.
One of the methods used for extinguishing gas well fires is the application of steam. Steam, when sent in the form of jets under high pressure against a gas well fire may be of sufficient effectiveness to extinguish the fire by smothering it. The steam also has a tendency to break up the continuity of the gas flame.
To provide sufficient steam, it is frequently necessary to bring into play a large bank of portable boilers. These boilers are usually fired by oil and are connected to feed into pipe lines directed at proper points to produce desired extinguishing effects.
In one of the illustrations herewith are shown seven portable boilers all lined up and ready to operate. These were used in extinguishing a fire recently in one of the southwestern states.
Naturally it requires quite a force of men to operate these boilers, and together with other men required in fire fighting operations, quite a large group is brought together to extinguish the average gas fire. This represents quite a big cost, but it is necessary in view of the fact that immense quantities of gas would otherwise be lost through burning if a gas well were permitted to remain ablaze any length of time.
Another method of extinguishing the gas well lire is by means of explosives. The usual method of employing explosives is to rig up three derricks and interconnect them with cables which are so arranged that they may be played in or out as desired. When the three cables are laid out they are brought to a common point of connection, and at this point of connection is attached a parcel of dynamite, connected with wires for electrical detonation.
When the stage is all set, the cables are drawn in at each of the three derricks so as to bring the explosive directly adjacent to the gas stream. When it is brought close to the ground and adjacent to the gas, it is fired by the electric fuse and the concussion breaks up the stream of gas and blows out the fire.
While gas continues to flow from the well, it is not always ablaze and can therefore be readily handled.
Using a Stack
Another method which has been used with great success, particularly in the moderate size gas well fire, is the portable stack built in the form of a funnel at the lower end. This device is shown in position over a gas well in one of the illustrations herewith.
The method of using this device is as follows:
The stack, or pipe, is attached to cables from two or three derricks and is gradually snaked toward the burning well, with the funnel foremost. When brought up alongside of the well, the stack is raised to a vertical position through the use of guy wires and cables from the derricks. In this manner it is brought up over the well and carries the gas from the port at the ground to the top of the stack where it continues to burn. Actually what is accomplished is to raise the point of combustion well above the ground so that men may get beneath the flame and near the well where they can operate. When the stack is in a vertical position, and everything is ready to proceed, men approach the stack and anchor it properly to the ground. The stack is fitted with a valve whereby the gas can be cut off temporarily. When the stack is all set, the value is turned and for a moment or two the rush of gas is arrested. This gives time for the gas above the stack to be completely burned and fire thus extinguished.
Oil Tank Fires
About the only effective agent so far found for handling oil tank fires is foam. This is produced in various methods as described in previous issues of this journal, such as by use of mixing chambers and pumping two solutions to a point near the tank where they are brought together and foam thereby resulting. Or powder is used directly in a so-called foam “generator” which produces foam at a convenient point for discharge into the oil tanks.
Occasionally on a tank farm where satisfactory equipment is not at hand a fire occurs. Then it is a question of emptying the exposed tank after keeping the burning tank cooled, if water is available.
If not, great dependance has to be placed upon the dikes.
In many cases the dikes are not in a very good state of repair and when a fire occurs there is a rush to get them into shape. Such a condition is shown in the illustration herewith. Men are working in close proximity to a burning tank in order to get a dike properly banked to prevent the spread of fire by the flow of burning oil.
When a tank, while burning, lets go, there is a rush for safety and there is no time to dally. For that reason the maximum number of men are usually brought into operation at the first sign of fire to get the dikes again into shape, if they are not already properly maintained.
Tribute Paid to John Drew by Firemen—At the annual dinner given by East Hampton, L. I., to the volunteer fire department, tribute was paid to John Drew, the late noted American actor, by the volunteer firemen. It was the first of the dinners which Mr. Drew missed in seventeen years, and he was a resident of East Hampton for the past thirty years. Tribute was also paid to the deceased by Irwin S. Cobb.