Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Hazmat team responds to fire

At Albina Asphalt


by: HOLLY M. GILL - Fire personnel from the Jefferson County Fire Department and Warm Springs Fire and Safety prepare to fight a fire in the cover of a 1.3 million gallon asphalt tank, similar to the one on the left, on April 17, at Albina Asphalt.Smoke coming from a 1.3 million gallon asphalt tank in the Madras Industrial Site last week had local fire officials scrambling for information to prevent a potentially volatile situation.

On April 17, just before noon, the Jefferson County Fire Department received a report from Albina Asphalt, located on Northwest Paul Jasa Way, of a fire involving hazardous materials.

According to Fire Chief Brian Huff, at about 325-340 degrees Fahrenheit, the asphalt in the tanks is a “volatile, combustible liquid; it vaporizes at about 450 degrees – the ignition temperature.”

Putting out an asphalt fire can be problematic. “You’re not supposed to squirt water on it, because it causes it to rapidly expand to four times its size, or erupt,” he said.

Because the tank is 32 feet tall, Fire Chief Brian Huff had one of his firefighters climb the stairwell on an adjacent tank, about 45 feet away, so the firefighter could see where the smoke was coming from.

“It appeared to us that there was a fire in the tank, because the vent or flue pipe comes directly out of the center of the tank and through the roof structure,” said Huff, who contacted the Gresham HazMat Team to respond to the scene.

As they tried to determine how to attack the fire, Huff said they sprayed a mist of water on the tank, which caused the smoke to change from light to dark and the asphalt to react.

“We ceased that operation and actually moved back,” he said, noting that the Madras Police Department was on scene, and started “pre-evacuation notices.”

Since asphalt tank fires are such rare occurrences that neither he, nor the Gresham HazMat Team had ever dealt with one, Huff consulted an application on his smartphone.

“I was able to use an application that deals with hazardous materials and how to deal with them,” he said.

With technical expertise from the half-dozen Albina employees at the scene, he said, “We were going to fill the tank from the bottom to get rid of that vapor space and smother the fire.”

Before they tried that, however, they took another look from the top and determined that it wasn’t the asphalt that was burning. “Three or so hours into the incident, we could tell it was the roof structure,” said Huff. “By the time the hazmat team got there, we had already established that it wasn’t in the tank, if it had ever been.” The team left after about 30 minutes.

Damage was confined to the roof of the tank, which he estimated would cost under $10,000 to repair. “At some point, with hot enough vapors coming out, a little bit of asphalt came out of the tank and got on to the insulation material,” he said. “There’s no other ignition source there.”

The fire department was assisted by mutual aid from Warm Springs Fire and Safety, and cleared the scene by 5 p.m.

Earlier fire more damaging

Huff and Tom Jaca, assistant chief, both recalled a much more damaging fire at Albina, just over a decade ago.

On Nov. 17, 2002, a fire completely destroyed Albina Asphalt’s office and equipment building, valued at $200,000, as well as contents estimated at $450,000.

Huff worked on the fire as a volunteer, and Jaca, as incident commander for the first time on a commercial structure. Firefighters were able to shut off the natural gas lines that connected to the asphalt tanks, and prevent the fire from spreading to propane tanks at the back of the building.



Local Weather

Mostly Cloudy

46°F

Madras

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 79%

Wind: 5 mph

  • 23 Oct 2014

    Cloudy 58°F 44°F

  • 24 Oct 2014

    Rain 53°F 42°F