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An explosion and large fire put firefighters to work at an oil facility in eastern Texas on Oct. 14.
The blaze was reported by Michael Sammons of the Red Springs Volunteer Fire Department just before 10 p.m, KLTV reported. From a distance of 3 or 4 miles, Sammons could see flames from Vess Oil Corp. property reaching 50 feet into the sky. Crews from Red Springs, Lindale and Winona fire departments responded.
The fire started at a skimming station and spread to nearby buildings and oil tanks. On the grounds of the facility were three storage tanks and one pump house, Tyler Morning Telegraph reported. A representative from Vess arrived at the scene to shut down the wells, which removed the fuel source. Crews brought the blaze under control by around midnight. After extinguishing the structures, firefighters let the the remaining fire burn itself out. The tanks, pump and several vessels were destroyed.
Nobody was present at the time of the explosion and no evacuations were ordered.
Some of the tanks, however, leaked during the blaze. Thousands of gallons of a mixture of seawater and oil were lost, causing the containment dike to overflow. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality sent representatives the following day to investigate the spill and draw plans for cleanup measures.
Crude oil is among the substances that are subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's guidelines for flammable and combustible liquids. Special handling and storage can help prevent hazards like an explosion or contamination from occurring.
Flammable and combustible liquids must be stored in tanks or closed containers. If kept indoors, rooms must be equipped with a mechanical exhaust ventilation system that can provide a complete change of air six times per hour. Flammable vapors can be a major hazard if they accumulate. A methane gas detector can read levels of indoor fumes and warn employees if the concentration becomes dangerous.
When stored outside, as crude oil was at the Vess Oil facility, the storage area must be surrounded by a curb or earth dike of at least 12 inches high. A drain must be constructed that leads to a safe location in case of spills or accumulation of rainwater.
OSHA requires fire control devices be installed and available near containers. OSHA stipulates that a fire extinguisher should be placed 10 to 25 feet away from an indoor storage area or 25 to 75 feet away from an outdoor storage area. The distance is necessary because if a fire were threatening a tank it would be difficult to get very close. In the face of an emergency, if the extinguisher were only a few feet away from the tank, it maybe irretrievable.
As of yet, there have been no reports of violations at the Vess Oil facility. Investigators are still determining the cause of the fire.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.