In yesterday's report on the $1 million fire at the huge gasoline and oil storage depot in Farfax City, the number of fires at bulk petroleum terminals was incorrectly stated, based on figures supplied by the American Petroleum Institute. A spokesman for API said the figure had been taken from the wrong place and that there were only 25 major fires in at the nation's 10,923 bulk terminals, the last year for which oil companies have submitted statistics. In 1974 there were 17 major fires at bulk terminals. It was incorrectly reported yesterday that the House Ways and Means Committee had voted tentatively to increase the tax on gasoline for private aircraft as part of the energy bill. The committee rejected this administration proposal but could reconsider when this part of the bill is put to a final vote next week. CAPTION: Picture 1, Fairfax County and City firefighters advance a hose line spraying foam to extinguish burning gasoline tanker trucks at Amoco loading dock. By Don Hubbard; Picture 2, Firemen work to extinguish an early-morning fire at a Fairfax City gasoline depot. Seven persons were injured in the explosion and fire that caused an estimated $1 million damage.Residents living nearby had to be evacuated until the blaze was brought under control. By Larry Morris - The Washington Post
A series of explosions and fire at the Washington area's largest gasoline storage depot in Fairfax City injured seven persons and caused an estimated $1 million in damage early yesterday, according to Fairfax County and city fire officials.
The 6:58 a.m. fire began at the American Oil Co. (Amoco) loading rack inside the giant tank farm when one of six trucks there apparently spilled gasoline on the ground. Moments later, another truck's engine backfired, sparking the first of several explosions, according to an Amoco spokesman.
As drivers, ran, several of the trucks exploded. The concussion from the blasts shook the 200 homes in the nearby Comstock town house development opposite W. T. Woodson High School on Rte. 236. Residents closest to the tank farm, some only about 100 yards away, were evacuated to the high school by police until after the blaze was brought under control at about 8 a.m.
The most seriously injured person in the fire was Newton Leaphart, 43, of College Park, an Amoco driver who suffered second and third-degree burns over 70 per cent of his body, according to a spokesman for Washington Hospital Center. Amoco's terminal manager Earl Wood, said Leaphart's clothes were burned off him before he could even get away from his truck.
It was the first serious fire at the 13-year-old tank farm. It was built over the strenuous opposition of local residents who claimed in an unsuccessful 1962 law suit attempting to block it that a giant gasoline storage area would be "a time bomb of highly inflammable fluid." The tank farm is located on Pickett Road in the heart of a growing residential area.
None of the depot's 29 huge storage tanks, which hold more than 58 million gallons of gasoline and fuel oil for use by Washington-area residents was damaged.
Foam, in large quantities, was finally used to extinguish the blaze. More than a dozen fire trucks and small foam units of the Fairfax City and county fire departments could only contain the fire. It was quickly smothered when one of the four giant Dulles International Airport foam machines arrived at 7:45 a.m.
The foam is a concentrate of animal and fish protein emulsion mixed with water that expands about 100 times and smothers fuel fires. The huge Dulles machine frequently comes to the rescue of local fire departments, most recently extinguishing a gasoline tanker fire last winter on the Capital Beltway in McLean.
In addition to Leaphant, those injured in yesterday's fire, which melted parts of the gasoline trucks and the steel loading racks, included three drivers who were listed in fair condition at Commonwealth Doctors Hospital: Lonnie Underwood, 56, of Washington, Lee Anderson, whose residence was unknown, and Jay Miller, 55, of Alexandria.
Two firemen and one other driver were treated for minor injuries at Commonwealth and released.
While there have been as many as 10,000 fires a year at the nation's 26,000 bulk petroleum terminals, according to the American Petroleum Institute, there have been none in the Washington area in recent years.
An explosion and fire at Exxon's Salisbury, Md., terminal in 1975 caused extensive damage but no injuries, while gasoline storage tanks in Richmond exploded and burned for almost a full day last June before being extinguished.Several gasoline trucks here have exploded both on highways and in service stations, but they have caused few deaths or serious injuries.
Because of its concern about the Richmond fire, the Fairfax City Council two years ago ordered an outside consultant to do a fire safety study for the city, "with particular emphasis on conditions at the tank farm," Assistant City Manager Robert Norris said yesterday.
The study recommended installing additional access roads around the giant tanks to aid firefighters in case of a fire and to install automatic fire-extinguishing foam equipment in every tank.
"Amoco was the most cooperative of all the companies in the tank farm about making the improvements," Norris said, "and has already built the roads . . . The other companies are just finishing the road designs." The roads will cost $120,000. Besides Amoco, the other major oil companies using the tank farm are Texaco, Cities Service (Citgo) and Gulf although several smaller companies also buy oil there.
The depot stores gasoline and fuel oil pumped from the Colonial Pipeline, the 36-inch 1,600-mile underground pipe that carries petroleum fuels from the Gulf of Mexico to the New York harbor.
Attorney LaRue Van Meter, who brought the citizen suit that attempted to block the tank farm, said yesterday "the fire and explosions surely justify our objections . . . it was a near catastrophe."
He said the suit was successful in getting the oil companies to promise to dig abutments around the storage tanks to contain any tank leaks, which they did Even so, leaks at the farm filled a nearby creek recently. The oil companies have since built a pond to collect any future spillage.
The fire marshal's office, however, had to go to Fairfax City General District Court yesterday to get subpoenas to question five Amoco workmen about the fire because the company allegedly refused to let them be interviewed until after Amoco officials had first spoken to them. "We don't know why they don't want to talk to us," a spokesman for the fire marshal's office said late in the day.
However, Amoco spokesman Bill Adams said "that's bull . . . Our men are perfectly willing to speak to fire marshals now or any time.He said the whole incident was a misunderstanding. The city court quashed the subpoenas late yesterday after the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney's Office and Amoco attorneys agreed out of court that the employees would be interviewed Monday.