Lessons from an Oil Fire

Lessons from an Oil Fire

The very complete and interesting report which leads this week’s issue of FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING and which deals with a fire in the plant of the Manhattan Oil Company, Des Moines, Ia., contains much useful information to chiefs who have within the limits of their fire districts large oil refineries or storage establishments. It would seem that, according to the report, considerable carelessness and ignorance were apparent among the employees of the oil company. One of the greatest contributing causes of spreading of this fire were small containers piled about the yard which were supposedly empty and yet which contained in each instance small residues of contents which extreme heat of the fire converted into gas, causing these containers to explode and the burning oil to be thrown in every direction. Besides this, the wooden sills and surrounding ground were oil-soaked. The tanks of lubricating oil became heated and their contents boiled out through the vents and in one case the heat from this cause was so great that a cap screwed down tight was sheared from the interior and the cap blown to a considerable distance. One large tank exploded in this way. The plan adopted by the fire department for smothering the fire by concentrating three streams over the center and gradually lowering the water curtain thus formed was a very efficient and wellthought out method. One of the most important lessons of this fire was that which demonstrated the fact that in tanks properly vented the contents will burn or boil away without exploding and endangering the surrounding property. As the engineers say in their account, “Although the potential hazard of large quantities of inflammable liquids is severe, the fact that a fire can be controlled, when the storage is in properly constructed and separated steel tanks, by powerful streams of water of large size, was well illustrated in this fire.”

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