Firefighters try bold step to end California rail fire
Between 4,000 and 5,000 homes in the city of Lincoln, California were evacuated, and students in the area were missing their first days of school.
August 24, 2011, Associated Press -- (California) Firefighters try bold step to end Calif. rail fire. Firefighters August 24 tried to drain propane from a burning rail car in a bold maneuver meant to head off an explosion after the blaze forced the evacuation of thousands of people in Lincoln, California.
Officials decided to take the step after consulting with members of a national response team from Houston, who were flown in overnight to offer advice, the Lincoln fire chief said. Fire officials initially said the blaze could continue for 21 days, but the chief said that scenario was unacceptable. Between 4,000 and 5,000 homes in the city of 40,000 were evacuated, and students in the area were missing their first days of school.
The chief said firefighters now hope to have the blaze under control within 24 to 48 hours. Officials were trying to head off a potentially catastrophic failure of the 29,000-gallon tank. A buildup of heat could lead to an explosion and fireball several hundred yards wide. An explosion also could throw metal shards up to a mile away, prompting officials to order mandatory evacuations within a 1-mile radius.
The chief said firefighters had managed to keep the tanker cool since it caught fire August 23, but worried it was showing signs of melting. It was burning at the Northern Propane Energy yard. It was surrounded by trucks, other rail cars and storage tanks with at least 170,000 gallons of additional propane that the chief said were "at risk" as the fire burned. A gas pipeline also runs through the area. One worker at the rail yard was injured in the initial fire and suffered flash burns, but has been released from the hospital.
The chief said the procedure to drain the rail car of propane, called a "hot tap," would begin later August 24. He said the tanker would remain in place as firefighters attach a pipe and drain the propane into a hole to be dug by bulldozers. The propane would then be ignited and allowed to burn itself out, a process that will take several hours and produce black smoke. Highway 65, a major commuter thoroughfare between Sacramento and Lincoln, remained closed near the blaze.
Source: DHS Daily Open Source Infrastructure Report 25 August 2011