Oil Soaked Ground Spreads Fire from Cars to Plant
Oil Cars Communicate Fire in This Way to Tanks—Danger from the Explosion of Casinghead Gasoline Tries the Mettle of the Los Angeles Firemen—Fires of the Week
Lively Work Required in Los Angeles Oil Fire
On October 9 at 5:30 a. m., the Los Angeles fire department received an alarm of fire from Harriet and Cheney Streets, in the heart of the oil plant section of that city, according to a report furnished by Chief R. J. Scott of the department. Chief Scott’s description of this fire follows:
“On arrival at the scene it was found that the plant of the Richfield Oil Company, a medium sized oil plant of the many located in the immediate vicinity, was on fire. Two engine companies responded at the first alarm and a call was sent in at 5:42 for two additional companies. The fire proved to be a stubborn one to fight, and burned with more or less intensity for over ten hours before being finally extinguished.
“The location of this refinery is there small danger of the fire spreading to other property, except in the event of a particularly severe explosion, therefore we were able to concentrate our efforts in the saving of the plant. On my arrival, I found that the west side of the refinery, where the stills and retorts are located, was burning fiercely. Placed closely along side of the stills, on a siding, were eight tank cars, all of which contained oil of one description or another, two of which contained 15,000 gallons each of casinghead gasoline. The latter were insulated cars. Due to their close proximity to the fire, they were already very hot. a great amount of gas was being generated, which was escaping from seams and vents, burning with a roar that was deafening. The heat was such that the track upon which they were standing was warped to such a degree that it looked doubtful if they could be moved. A switch engine was procured, with an engineer bold enough to take the risk and by the use of a shield, together with a water screen, a man was sent in to break the patent coupling. Due to the condition of the track, and the fact that the brakes were locked and the cars blocked, it was impossible to move more than two at one time. Three cars were thus removed from the north end, and drawn a distance from the fire, when water was played upon them until cooled and the flames simply blown away. Coupling was then made in the same way with the cars on the south end, and extinguished in like manner All the cars were ignited and burning fiercely, but naturally the most difficulty was encountered with the cars containing casinghead gasoline. Fortunately, the cars were of steel construction. It might be said, in passing, that the mettle of the men was given a severe test here, all being more or less familiar with the fairly recent disaster in Oklahoma, caused by the explosion of a car of casinghead.
“After the tank cars were taken care of, my efforts were then directed to the stills and storage tanks, which contained petroleum products of all description, lubricating, crude, distillate and gasoline. Water was used only as a curtain and to keep the heat down as much as possible until the arrival of foamite equipment, which was furnished by one of the larger oil companies. To date, this department has not been able to secure this chemical in sufficient amount without such co-operation, which is always willingly given. Many tanks were burning by this time, around the top and at seams that were giving way on corrugated iron tanks. These latter contained lubricating oil, and were so hot that extreme difficulty was experienced in extinguishing them. They were repeatedly smothered with foamite, but the heat of adjacent tanks caused boiling to continue, and re-ignition occurred. By the use of this chemical, however, the fire was eventually gotten under control and finally extinguished, in time to save over half of the value of the plant and the oils in storage. The total loss is estimated at $60,000.
“The cause of this fire is somewhat in doubt. It appears that in connecting tank cars to unload at the plant, employes were unable to avoid the spilling of some ten gallons of the car’s contents, the result being that the ground around the track was saturated with gasoline and oil. Connection had just been made with a car of casinghead gasoline, and the night man in charge had walked about two hundred feet up the track, according to his report, when the explosion occurred. Looking hack, he saw two of the cars burst into flames, and at the same time saw flames travelling along the oil-soaked ground, into the plant toward the storage tanks. A switch engine had just passed, and it is possible that the fire box ignited vapor close to the ground. Static electricity may have been responsible.
“Twenty nine tanks were burned, of capacity varying from 1,700 to 25,000 gallons. The corrugated iron tanks containing lubricating oil were a total loss, while the steel tanks containing tops and gasoline stood up under the fire quite well, and the contents were saved. It was proven beyond doubt that the use of corrugated iron in the construction of tanks is not satisfactory, for the storage of any kind of inflammable oil. A large number of steel drums were also destroyed, they having exploded from time to time with the effect of artillery fire. Twenty one tanks of oil of various kinds, although in close proximity to the fire, were saved with the contents untouched. When it is taken into consideration that these tanks were not protected by walls of any kind, were within a few feet of the tanks that were burning, and with the ground covered with oil. I believe it must he admitted that the stopping of this fire was a remarkable piece of work on the part of this department.
I am free to state that, upon my arrival, the whole plant appeared to be a total loss; and due to the fact that no other property was in immediate danger, and the additional fact that the fighting of fires of this nature entails such extreme risk to the men, I believe that no criticism could have been justly directed against us if we had stood by and “let ‘er burn.”
A motor truck passing from behind a street car which had stopped to allow Engine No. 14 of the Newark. N. J., fire department to pass collided with the apparatus and caused the injury of a member of the department, who was taken to the city hospital with possible internal injuries. The engine was going south on Dawson Street and the truck was going east on South Street when the accident occurred. The chauffeur claimed that the car hid the engine from view. A more serious accident was averted by the driver of the engine who swerved the wheels, after the apparatus reached the sidewalk thus preventing it from smashing into stores on the corner. The chauffeur of the truck was arrested.