Fire at tank farm extinguished quickly

Downtown fuel dock closed until power source is found

Posted: Sunday, December 24, 2000

A fire early Saturday in the foam shed of the Petro Marine Services "tank farm" at the Douglas end of the Douglas Bridge alarmed residents, but firefighters kept it confined to the shed.

The fire knocked out power to the fuel dock, however, which will be closed until an alternate source is found, said Douglas Fire District Chief Merrell Sanford.

More serious consequences might have resulted if no one had been manning the premises at the time, said terminal manager Richard W. Bevens.

"If the re-supply barge hadn't been in, we wouldn't have had people here," Bevens said.

"When it happened, two people were here, one in the office and one on the loading rack fueling a truck. The only electricity on was in the office and one pump. Then there was a big explosion," Bevens said.

Capital City Fire & Rescue was alerted at 7:55 a.m. Saturday, and about 30 personnel, both career firefighters and volunteers, responded to the scene, said Sanford, who was the incident commander.

"Everybody's blood pressure went up real quick" because of the potential of a blaze involving petroleum stores, Sanford said. The tank farm holds 2 million gallons of various products when full.

The firefighters were able to confine the blaze, and "it was out rather quick," said Chief Jim Carroll. By 8:45 a.m., mop up was in progress and only light gusts of smoke were drifting from the scorched eaves of the 16- by 20-foot, single-story metal building.

"Some time this morning the power went out. Then workers spotted smoke coming out of the green building," Sanford, 53, said. Two engines, a ladder truck and an ambulance were on scene within two minutes, he said.

Although dwarfed by the tanks of gasoline and diesel at the site, the small shed is crucial to Petro Marine's operation. It contains tanks of foam retardant connected by pipes to each fuel tank, poised to flow automatically to smother any spark or flame.

"Because this plant is so close to a residential area, they made (Petro Marine) put in foam systems to all the tanks," Sanford said.

The building also contains files of old invoices, a fire monitoring system, Bevens' personal library of company documents and a lab to test fuel products.

"There was no damage outside the building and nobody got hurt. That makes it a good Christmas present for us," Sanford said.

"We know that right where the desk was, underneath the electrical panels, was pretty hot," Bevens said. "But there was no fuel spilled."

Bevens said he didn't know yet if the integrity of the foam system had been compromised by the blaze. Electrical experts had been contacted to do an estimate of damage and give a timeline for repairs, he said.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, he expected to have everything repaired in a week.

Empire photographer Brian Wallace, who lives with his parents next door to the tank farm, said the fire was "pretty spectacular when it first broke out," and that he spent half an hour getting his parents dressed and ready to evacuate.

Wallace was a member of the North Douglas Neighborhood Association that fought the building of the tank farm in that neighborhood for seven years.

Petro Marine owns seven petroleum tank farms in Southeast Alaska, including the one in West Juneau. The company stores fuel and distributes it to a variety of customers, including gas stations, heating oil retailers and the fishing industry. The West Juneau farm opened in February 1994.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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