An oil tank that was being decommissioned north of Farmerville exploded Tuesday morning killing a Vivian man and injuring four others, according to Union Parish officials.
Lee A. Green, Jr., 63, of Vivian was atop one of five tanks in the area when a spark of unknown origin caused it to explode, Union Parish Sheriff Dusty Gates said.
Of the four men working with Green, two suffered burns and two others suffered unspecified minor injuries. The four men’s injuries were not life-threatening, Gates said.
All four were transported and treated at Union General Hospital in Farmerville, he said.
Farmerville Fire Investigator Hunter Futch said the tanks are located off Hwy 15 near Johnson Road in a clearing that is slightly smaller than a football field. Firefighters were dispatched about 9:45, he said, and arrived shortly thereafter to find one tank ruptured and burning and the grass around it aflame and threatening to spread to a nearby treeline.
Shortly after arriving on the scene, Futch said the Farmerville Fire Department was joined by the Spearsville Volunteer Fire Department. In total, he said, 15 firefighters were on the scene within minutes.
Pafford EMS also arrived “really quickly” and took over care for the injured, he said.
“An oil tank fire is so dangerous,” Futch said, “because of the risk of other tanks exploding after we arrive. The first thing we did was get the injured to safety and started treating those injuries. Then, we assessed the situation and went to work on the fire.”
The situation was made more dangerous, Futch said, because the location of the tanks prevented firefighters from positioning their trucks broadside to the fire, which would have allowed them to fight the fire from cover until they could cool down the intact tanks to prevent them from exploding.
Instead, the trucks had to be parked in a line along a narrow dirt road that “wasn’t really a road” leading to the tanks, and firefighters were forced to attack the fire on open ground. At that point, Futch said, several things began happening simultaneously.
“We began spraying the other tanks with water to cool them down, and we had to put out the grass fire so we didn’t have a woods fire on our hands, too,” he said. “We got all that done pretty quick, and then started hitting the tank on fire with foam.”
Futch explained that water alone is a poor method of fighting oil fires because oil can travel with the moving water, land some distance away from the fire and then reignite, spreading the fire instead of extinguishing it. Fire suppression foam, on the other hand, separates the flames from the fuel source while cooling the fuel and any adjacent hot surfaces. Foam also suppresses the release of flammable vapors into the air.
Water and foam together is three times more effective in fighting oil fires than water alone, Futch said.
According to Futch, a single pump truck and four tanker truck were involved in fighting the fire. More than 14,000 gallons of water were used to extinguish the fire and render the scene safe a little more than hour after firefighters arrived, he said.
Capt. Robert Allen of the Farmerville FD said he was impressed with the efficiency of the firefighters on the scene and credited both their training and their experience with previous tank fires.
“This is not the first oil fire we’ve had to fight,” Allen said, “and we learn a little something each time. But our training, that makes all the difference.”
Futch emphasized the fact that all but three of the firefighters on scene were volunteers.
“These guys volunteer to put their lives in danger to protect other people’s lives and property” he said. “I am extremely thankful – we all should be extremely thankful – for them.”
Louisiana State Police Emergency Services and the Department of Environmental Quality are investigating the cause of the fire, and more information will be made available when the investigation is complete, LSP Trooper LeAnn Hodges said.