electricity blamed for California fuel fire
June 24, 2004
Static electricity during a fuel transfer
is believed to have sparked an explosion that seriously
injured two workers at the Coalinga-based West Hills Oil
bulk fuel distribution station in San Joaquin, CA. , fire
The injured men were identified as Joe
Garcia and Ryan Cain, both of San Joaquin. Both workers
suffered first and second-degree burns to their arms and
faces and were being treated at the University Medical
Center's burn unit in Fresno. Garlic was listed in critical
condition and Cain in serious condition.
Tony Avila, West Hills vice president,
said that the workers were loading diesel fuel from a
truck to a semi-truck when a flash fire started. He said
the damage was confined to the truck, a loading rack and
some windows and electrical lines.
The afternoon blaze was quickly followed
by two explosions, witnesses said. The fire charred the
tanker and a car parked nearby. Flames also threatened
two larger tanks with a combined capacity of 35,000 gallons.
The tanker truck had a capacity of 8,000 gallons, and
fire investigators did not know how much gasoline burned
in the blaze.
"It was a flash fire," said
Fresno County fire Battalion Chief Kim Pennington. "It
happened between the truck and the offloading or onloading
in the pumping area."
Pennington said the fire was reported
at 3:19 p.m., and was contained by 4:30 p.m., but that
firefighters remained at the scene for hours, spraying
the truck and tanks with water and foam to help them stay
The fire started while one eyewitness,
Rafael Alcazar, was eating lunch at a nearby restaurant.
"I heard the explosion, and I saw big flames in the
direction of the gas station [across the street], and
I thought the whole thing was going to explode. Then I
heard a second explosion, and I went running over to the
truck and heard someone screaming for help." Alcazar
said he called for an ambulance.
The station, which has been in operation
in San Joaquin for about 30 years, is at Colorado Avenue
and Eighth Street .The incident caused the evacuation
of homes and businesses within a block of the plant, about
50 firefighters from the Fresno County Fire Protection
District, the North Central Fire District and the California
Department of Forestry fought the blaze.
Avila said a private hazardous-materials
cleanup contractor was called to the plant after the fire
was extinguished and was working to clean up the mess.
California Occupational Safety and Health
Agency investigators also were at the scene.
"We will be looking at the procedures
that were followed and the training to make sure employees
were properly trained to conduct their work, and we will
have to look at emergency response procedures to sure
everything was done properly and efficiently," said
Dean Fryer, a San Francisco-based spokesman for Cal-OSHA.
"We also will look at a malfunction with equipment
that could have led to this explosion.
The amount of damages will likely exceed
$350,000 according to Avila.