Spate of Fuel Storage Fires Prompts Hazmat Review

With a spike in oil tank fires making the news in recent weeks, it is worth having a closer look at what those mean for hazmat teams.

Last week a fuel depot just over the Ukrainian border in Belgorod, Russia came under attack from what Russian officials say were missiles fired from Ukrainian helicopters. According to CNN, eight tanks and 3.52 million gallons of fuel burned.

And there was a Russian military attack on an oil refinery and depot in Odessa, which lies on Ukraine’s southern border. In February, Russian forces hit an air base near Kiev, setting some of its oil storage tanks on fire

Also Read: Exploding Fuel Tanker Ignites Enormous Fire on Afghanistan-Iran Border

In late March, a tanker truck caught fire and exploded at a Texas jet fuel depot. The driver and passenger escaped prior to the explosion and were not seriously injured. The fire and debris did not appear to compromise the fuel storage tanks.

Also in late March an oil distribution facility in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was attacked by missiles in what officials attributed to ongoing conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed rebels. It is unclear how many tanks were compromised or how much oil burned and leaked.

Here’s a look back at our three tips to handling a tanker fire from a hazmat point of view.


Keep it small. That was Retired Fire Chief Leigh Hollins’ advice in his 2018 two-part article that ran in Fire Engineering. Hollins acknowledges that keeping the spill small is often easier said than done. But the smaller the incident’s footprint, the fewer resources needed to bring it under control and the lesser the risk to all involved.


Mix up training evolutions. Avoid falling into doing the same tanker training every time. Yes, repetition is an important part of learning. But how much is anyone learning if the same training spill material is leaking from the same area of the tanker in the same crash scenario and impinging on the same hazards every time? Make the placards inaccurate, change the runoff threats, alter the time of day and weather, and tweak the number of responders available. Change the scenario based on responder mistakes — planted or organic. Different scenarios require different tasks and give more opportunity for hazmat team members to think on their feet and do different hands-on skills. And train for drilling the holes needed to off load remaining fuel into another tanker. This, Chief Hollins says, is a very dangerous operation.


Go big early. One of the keys to keeping the incident small is overwhelming it with resources early, and not finding yourself playing catch up. That could mean getting wheel loaders from public works to drop loads of dirt in the fuel’s path. With that said, ERG reminds us not to rush in; life safety is still priority one. And there are times when letting it burn itself out is the best option.

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