Trio of Petroleum Fires Have Hazmat Implications

Picture of a fire

August kicked off with three dangerous fuel-based hazmat stories.

The most deadly of the three began on Aug. 6 about 65 miles from Havana, Cuba when lightning hit a crude oil storage tank farm. That set off several explosions as one tank burned, setting off two others over the next two days.

At least one firefighter died, more than a dozen firefighters were missing and more than 125 people were injured.

The Associated Press reported that the fire at the Matanzas Supertanker Base in Matanzas city led to nearly 5,000 being evacuated and others told to shelter in place and wear masks if they went outside. Smoke from the fire contains sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other poisonous materials.

Cuban emergency response was not equipped to handle such a large industrial fire and brought in firefighting teams and equipment from Mexico and Venezuela. And the military constructed barriers to contain the spill crude.

As of this writing, the situation had not been brought under control. There is almost certain to be increased loss of life. The country’s electric power supply is compromised by the fire. And officials will need to contend with a serious hazmat situation once the fires are out. Beyond that, one expert told AP the site is not out of the woods once the fire is out.

Also Read: Spate of Fuel Storage Fires Prompts Hazmat Review

Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas, told AP that officials should inspect the walls of tanks that aren’t on fire to ensure they weren’t affected. He also warned that the government must be careful before bringing the system back online once the fire is extinguished.

“If not, there’ll be another catastrophe,” he told AP. “Unfortunately, this is going to take time.”

Just two days earlier a chemical plant near Houston that makes fuel additives caught fire. Officials there issued a shelter-in-place order and no injuries or deaths were reported.

KPRC reported that the fire was contained in about four hours and the Fort Bend Hazmat Team was called out to monitor the air and test chemicals.

And a day prior to that one of the more dangerous hoarder incidents was uncovered in Philadelphia. There, neighbors complained of a gasoline odor coming from a rowhouse vacant since a March fire. When police investigated they found 154 plastic milk jugs filled with gasoline.

Hazmat crews were called to the scene to remove the gasoline jugs. Neighbors were evacuated while the jugs were removed.

As late as Aug. 8, police were looking for a man who used to live in the home in connection with a fire previously set there. Police initially questioned and released the man; one witness told ABC6 that the man returned to the abandoned home with more jugs of gasoline prior to the second fire.

It was unclear if the three incidents were related.

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


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