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#445078 - 08/24/12 08:37 AM Butane Fire On City Outskirts
Marty Offline

There was a major butane fire this evening at mile four and a half on the western highway.

The main thing to report at this hour is that it is under control, there was no loss of life, and, all things considered, relatively minor damage to property.

The fire started around 5:00 pm - at a small butane depot at mile four and a half. As we understand it three butane tanks caught on fire and burned - and there were multiple large, thundering explosions.

We say mini depot because the small facility only had three tanks - and all of them burned. But BRAVO Motors, which is right beside it, experienced no damages or losses.

Our team is on the scene and we'll have more later on.

Butane Fire Update

As we told you at the top of the newscast - there was a fire at a mini butane depot on the Western Highway this evening at around five. It is at mile four and a half on the western Highway immediately beside Bravo Motors.

The business was not operational - but there were four butane tanks there with LPG gas inside - and one of the hoses was ruptured. It caused a major, violent blaze - but we have now been told there was no explosion.

George Orellana saw it from his home across the road. Here's what he told us:

Marion Ali, Reporter
"You were on the scene and you took some pretty nice videos."

George Orellana
"I was the first one who saw the tanks burning. Looks like the workers were not well trained because they ran away instead of minimized the damages, they just ran away. My workers are the ones who came and help the first truck from the firefighters who came to the scene."

Monica Bodden
"From what you saw out there, how long did it take firefighters to arrive on the scene?"

George Orellana
"About 20 minutes I think."

Monica Bodden
"When they arrived your workers still had to help them?"

George Orellana
"The thing is that just one truck arrived with two guys and they came in here to my property - that's the only place to get water because everywhere else was kind of far so they came in. Thank God that I was here because usually I have my gate closed - my gate was open and they came through and my guys helped them to come into the property and connect the hoses in the sea."

Marion Ali, Reporter
"This incident happens, it's not something that occurs every day or even every month - that it happens and it happens within such close proximity to you and your company and your staff. How does that alert you?"

George Orellana
"The thing is that I work for Puma Energy and Puma Energy trained us well in case of fire or oil spill or whenever we have problems with fuels we are well trained from Puma Energy. That's what I was talking to Assistant Commissioner Aragon that whoever owns these types of businesses - there supposed to be mandatory training for the workers because it was just a small fire. The fire started in a small house next to the tanks and instead of minimizing - they should have extinguishers just to minimize the damages but instead of trying to avoid that they just ran way and left the fire. "

Our team is just back and Tomorrow we'll have the full story plus footage of the blaze at its height.

Channel 7

#445133 - 08/25/12 07:34 AM Re: Butane Fire On City Outskirts [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The Butane Depot Fire That Could Have Been A Catastrophe

Today things were back to normal at mile four and a half on the Western Highway after a fire at an LPG or Butane Gas terminal that could have been catastrophic.

And that is no exaggeration: 40 thousand gallons of butane gas were exposed to naked flames.

But, thankfully, there was no disaster, no one was hurt and there was no major damage to property.

In fact - after all that excitement - we can say that it was a very minor blaze. But, it could have been so much worse! Monica Bodden looked back at the fire - and found out what caused it today. She got first hand amateur video from the first responder, Jorge Orellana of Belize MARINE AND MOORING SERVICES - who is building a house across the street from the scene of the blaze:

Monica Bodden reporting
At 4:55 Jorge Orellana and his staff were on the waterfront near his tugboats, where in the background beyond his home he saw a fire starting at Western Gas which is directly in front of his property.

He and his workers ran towards the fire and saw all the Western Energy workers running away.

Jorge Orellana - Businessman
"I was the first one who saw the tanks burning. Looks like the workers were not well trained because they ran away instead of minimized the damages, they just ran away. My workers are the ones who came and help the first truck from the firefighters who came to the scene. The fire started in a small house next to the tanks and instead of minimizing - they should have extinguishers just to minimize the damages but instead of trying to avoid that they just ran way and left the fire."

While they were running towards the western gas compound they saw a mushrooming flare that expanded into a fireball in the sky. It looked like an explosion - but strictly speaking, it was not. In fact Deputy Fire Chief Ted Smith explained it was a safety mechanism.

Ted Smith - Deputy Fire Chief
"Each one of these tanks has what they called relief valves on the top that would release the pressure. After certain pressure was built into the tank these relief valves - some of them burst between 200-250 psi. I am not sure what psi these tanks rated at to burst at. But the burst and release the excess pressure that were built up within the tank so that they can be safe. There were naked flames available around therefore the relief valve would ignite - once it burst it ignites and so people would see natural flames shooting off in the air. When that occurred we felt comfortable because that is telling us that certain pressure in the tank started to release."

Jules Vasquez
"It's a built-in safety feature."

Ted Smith - Deputy Fire Chief
"It's a built-in safety feature to let the pressure built off."

Emil Torres - Sales Manager, Bravo Motors
"It was throwing flames in the air every second and then it slows down. I'd say that went on maybe about 30-40 big gushes of flames and the flames came out and lasted for maybe 10-15 seconds in between and I am talking about maybe 100 feet in the air. You could have seen it from a distance just shooting gas in the air."

Those flares occurred every 20 seconds creating frightening bursts of flames and the thundering sounds of an explosion which understandably provoked widespread fear and hysteria in the area -that the 40 thousand gallon tank sitting in the yard would blow.

It never did, but the threat to public safety and property was tremendous.

The Fire Department was on the scene since morning and by noon they had found the source of the fire.

It was right here in this pump house, where an electrical switchbox set the spark that started the fire:

Ted Smith - Deputy Fire Chief
"The cause of yesterday explosion was within the LPG compressor room and as a result of a design flaw. We had a electrical breaker box and control box within a small 6x8 compressor room that was not properly ventilated. We had a gas leak within the room and when the young man that was transferring the gas from one bowser to the stationery tank engage the switch the electrical control box that contain what they called a contact engage and created a spark within the room an explosion occurred as a result of the gas that was already leaked within that period."

"They were transferring gas. They have just transferred 10,000 gallons of the liquid. They were in the process of transferring another 10,000 gallons of the product into the stationary tank. The explosion occurred - all the valves were open. The fire subsequently spread to both of the pipes that were feeding the gas within the area. As you said my understanding is that the operator that was there moved away from the area. Because of the extent of the fire he was unable to close the valve, so he moved away from the area."

"We came in and assess the situation. Since the fire was exactly under one of the tank - directly under one of the 10,000 gallons tanks and right beside the other tank that contained approximately 28,000-30,000 gallons - that's the big tank behind me."

"The amount of heat that these tanks were exposed to would definitely cause the liquid to boil within the tank and the expansion of vapor. That also brings to our attention the urgency of also trying to cool the tank which we did well and I must commend the members of the department who came out here and put their lives on the line and did it without second thought."

Emil Torres, who is the sales Manager of Bravo Motors which is located directly beside the Western Gas Compound - said it was one of his employees who alerted the Western gas workers about what was happening. He said it only took seconds for the workers to scramble - leaving the compound behind. According to Torres, it was every man for himself - and clearly the new company had no emergency plan in place.

Emil Torres - Sales Manager, Bravo Motors
"They never react any at all."

Marion Ali, reporter
"What did you see them do?"

Emil Torres - Sales Manager, Bravo Motors
"I saw them come to inspect it and they ran. That's what I saw. I don't mean to crush anybody but we really got under some serious harm - the entire staff, our vehicles, I mean millions of dollars that we have invested in vehicles, it could have been worse. Thank God it wasn't. We felt the heat in the office. We ran out the office and on the street."

The tanks in the compound carried up to 40 thousand gallons of liquid petroleum gas… enough to cause a massive explosion.

Jorge Orellana - Businessman
"If one of those tanks had exploded, that would be over for a lot of poor families around. Probably even my house would get damage. One of those tanks explode we are talking a distance of a mile would be damage."

Ted Smith - Deputy Fire Chief
"A total disaster which is what we would call a boiling liquid expansion vapor explosion. That did not occur. That would only occur if we were unable to cool the tank enough to bring the temperature down low enough so that it does not expand to the stage where it can cause a massage rupture of the tank. The department responded, recognizes the urgency of the situation and immediately got into operation in cooling the tank. Senior staff was requested on the ground - senior staff came out, did an assessment of the situation and came up with a plan and they isolate the gas source while we reduce the temperature of the tank itself or the product within the tank preventing a disaster from occurring. The method that we used to keep the tank cool did not allow that to even come close to occurred."

Emil Torres - Sales Manager, Bravo Motors
"It could have been prevented first and foremost. That right there is what we see every day, we are there every day watching them and the type of operation that they run - it's just not the best operation that there is. It could have been prevented; however it could have been worse."

The Western Gas Depot had a trade license which was granted in December of last year - after it passed inspection. Previously, that inspection was done by the BDF - but there's a new law now which stipulates that police should do it.

The owner Mike Reyes just returned to the country this afternoon - but we did not have a chance to speak with him today. We'll keep following the story of what happens next to make sure there is not a recurrence.

Channel 7

#445427 - 08/29/12 07:39 AM Re: Butane Fire On City Outskirts [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Western Gas Owner Speaks On Butane Blaze

The Butane Fire that had the entire city in a state of suspended panic last week Thursday is old news by now - but there are still lessons to be learned form this important fire and questions to be answered.

Lessons because a fire at a butane depot is an absolute worst scenario and it is the first we have had in the city in decades. And questions because - by numerous accounts - the performance of the Western Gas employees when the fire started was not acceptable. Today we got to discuss both the lessons and the questions with the owner of the business Mike Reyes. Here's what he told Jules Vasquez:...

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"Fortunately we have an excellent - a superb fire department and I guess they got tested maybe for the very first time at this level but they did an exceptional job which created whatever could have been a catastrophe to have been minor."

Jules Vasquez reporting
Mike Reyes, has a lot to be thankful for. He's the owner of Western Gas at mile four and a half on the Western Highway and today he showed us what went wrong last week Thursday at his depot.

Reyes was out of the country when he got the call that there was a fire:

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"What happen when I got the call of course my first impression was thinking safety. When I heard the call the first thing I told my uncle who was the one in charge here 'please make sure the main valves are cut or completely shut off.'"

This is the main valve - but the fire started here in the pump house or what's left of it and it probably started with a spark from this switch box or this one.

From there it shot down the hose to this Mexican Bowser loaded with ten thousand gallons of butane - which was transferring LPG into the main tank.

And this is where that flaring combustion came from. The release valve on top is designed to release lpg in short sprays when the pressure gets dangerously high.

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"There were huge flames of fire popping up every so often every 20 seconds. What that was saying is those valves are called an excess relief valve. The job is at 250psi pressure in that tank; once it goes above 250psi their job is to open up to release that excess pressure so that there is no explosion."

The fire was being fuelled by butane, but also by these tyres - which caught on fire.

But it was a design flaw in the pump house that started it all.

Jules Vasquez
"Were you aware that there was a design flaw in the pump house?"

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"Absolutely not, of course if I had any idea of something of that sort I would have immediately taken care of it."

Jules Vasquez
"You should have known better. I can't even use my cell phone at a gas station when they are pumping gas. You should have known that wherever there is electricity and butane or LPG in the air, you have a chance of a fire."

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"Absolutely Jules and as you rightly said earlier today those equipment work with pumps and motors unfortunately - they need electrical output. The thing that we are seeing is contactors that they found being the problem. We need to make sure that these contactors are kept as far away as possible. So that's something along the way that we are learning. You are never told to learn that."

Jules Vasquez
"How you didn't know that Mike? You are such a veteran at this business."

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"Again Jules we are humans. We look at everything, we did everything, we hired an electrician that was certified which we also expect them as being an electrician - come here and do what they need to do properly."

Jules Vasquez
"If you were to put them in separate locations you would have to hire more people - it would become more costly, so then it could be argued that you kept the electrical switch for the pump and the butane operatus in the same room as a cost saving mechanism."

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"Absolutely not Jules. We will not spare a buck in the event of safety. In 29 years of us being in business praise God we never had an accident except for today."

But ultimately, the relevant authority - which is the police department - did review approve and sign off on the design and installation - as hazardous as it was.

But there is no authority that government the training of employee s- and by most accounts his did poorly:

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"Of course logically as humans when you get put into a situation where in an instant your life is at threat - the first thing your instincts will do is life preservation. So I am not going to argue the point that my employees didn't run. But what I can tell you by the deputy fire chief as I sat with him yesterday was that my employees were very instrumental in working along with them to make sure that this fire was put under control."

Jules Vasquez
"The conduct obviously - there are those who are employed to ensure public safety above self-preservation such as a soldier or a policeman. If they see something scary happening or somebody shooting a gun they don't run. Their job is to subdue an neutralize the person with the gun, the same way if I work in a butane facility my first job is to ensure public safety - yes self-preservation but I have to know that I am dealing with something that can endanger hundreds of lives."

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"Absolutely, if they said they ran Jules, let them tell me where they ran to. They probably move away from the immediate flame but they didn't leave the premises."

Emil Torres - Sales Manager, Bravo Motors
"I saw them come to inspect it and they ran. Looks like everyman for themself."

Jorge Orellana - Businessman
"Looks like the workers were not well trained because they ran away instead of minimized the damages, they just ran away."

Jules Vasquez
"Mr. Orellana who lives and had some employees across the street - he says that when he was running towards this area he saw your employees running towards the checkpoint, that's what he said. The people at BRAVO said the same thing. I am saying yes we have a human reaction but you have an obligation to maintain public safety."

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"Again Jules, if what you saw happening doesn't confirm public safety I don't know what else will because what Mr. Orellana talked about and I am not going to argue, I wasn't here - speaking to the fire chief, he said he didn't even see that gentleman around. So again we are talking about hearsay like the Belizean says. I am not dealing with hearsay - I am here to prove the facts and whatever mistakes or error we did I am going to make sure that this never happens again."

While witnesses do differ vastly with his understanding - the Fire Chief agrees that there must be more staff training:

Col. Francis Thomas - Fire Chief
"First of all, more training for the people who look after these types of facilities - that's definitely one of the things that was clearly was indicated in some of the interviews that we have heard before where the attendants did not quickly withdraw from the fire. Those are sort of things that we will probably initially look at."

Indeed it was a learning experience - but not a costly one

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"In our inventory we have absolutely not one gallon of loss, let me explain myself. What happen when these tankers come in usually they bring in 100-150 what we called overage - that's to compensate for us with evaporation of the gasses. So as we look at our inventory and close books we found out that basically what we loss was that little excess that we were supposed to gain when then tanker came in here - thank God."

So then what flared off in those balls of fire is about 100 to 150 gallons of butane.

Now, the job of rebuilding and refitting the pump house is at hand - and this time they are consulting widely before:

Mike Reyes, Western Gas
"I have met with the fire department. I am not going to do anything unless they give me their recommendations which Mr. Smith has told me he will do. We will sit down with him on the drawing board with his recommendations, I will be getting drafts also from my counterparts in the US to re-verify their modem of operation or installation and we will make sure that this never occurs again."

Reyes explained that the Western Gas Depot is not fully operational yet - and thus, it was not ensured.

Channel 7


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