Billings firefighters extinguish methane fire


HMN-Billings Montana firefighters extinguished a Methane fire that erupted at a wastewater treatment facility. The initial plan was to send a team in to isolate valves feeding the tank, however the original plan did not work. The team had to isolate farther down the line than planned. (Billings gazette)

A methane tank that caught fire at the Billings wastewater treatment facility early Tuesday morning was put out by the Billings Fire Department about two hours later.

The fire was reported at 1:32 a.m., and personnel from several different agencies closed some of the surrounding areas, including a major thoroughfare, because of a possible risk of explosion, according to Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Robert Lester.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Assistant Billings Fire Chief Pepper Valdez said shortly after it was extinguished.

Firefighters originally planned to close a valve near the fire that was supplying methane, a byproduct of the treatment process, to the holding tank that had ignited, Valdez said.

“We sent the suppression team in to suppress the fire and close those valves,” Valdez said. “The valves didn’t want to close, so ‘Plan B’ was to go further down the line.”

A safety team from the water treatment plant was eventually able to enter the building and shut off the gas, Valdez said.

“We actually train for this, so it was pretty straightforward,” he added.

The area nearby the Metra was cleared and Bench Boulevard to Hilltop Road in the Heights was closed until about 4 a.m. Billings fire and emergency management officials used an entrance to the plant, just west of the Dick Johnson Bridge, as a staging area for their incident-command operations while the methane tank burned about a half-mile away.

Two engines, a fire truck and a battalion chief were staged closer to the fire, inside the plant property, Valdez said.

Only one of the methane tanks at the facility caught fire, although Yellowstone County Disaster Emergency Services Coordinator Brad Shoemaker said before the fire was out that two other thanks were located nearby. He said later that no interruption in water services was expected to result from the incident.

Officials did not immediately have an estimate of the amount of damage caused by the fire.

The Yellowstone County Disaster Emergency Services, along with the Sheriff’s Office, Billings Police, Billings Fire Department and the Montana Highway Patrol all responded to the scene.


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