Firefighters defused a potentially explosive situation on Sunday night when an asphalt plant owned by Cummins Construction caught fire.
Someone reported the incident as a grass fire initially around 6:45 p.m. when part of the structure, located at the corner of Long Road and 32 in Marietta, caught fire. Shady Dale Fire Chief Tim Coyle, who served as incident commander, said Marietta, East Side, Jimtown, Lake Murray Village, Leon and Criner Hills Fire Departments responded to the call as well.
“All decisions were made and agreed upon as a group,” Coyle said.
Coyle described the structure as a large, outdoor tank about 20 feet tall and 50 feet long. The heater sits at one end of the structure.
“It’s like a giant can they have insulation around,” Coyle said. “On the north end, that’s where it was on fire.”
Coyle said the company now thinks there was a pinhole somewhere in the lining of one of the propane tank’s fuel lines. When the plant’s heater activated, it started the blaze. Within moments, a 1,000 gallon propane tank west of the structure caught fire as well.
“The closest one to the tank got hot enough that it blew its safety valve and flowed propane into the air,” Coyle said. “And it caught on fire.”
He said they were able to extinguish the heater fire, but the tank of propane continued to burn. A team of two firefighters, one from Criner Hills and one from Shady Dale, went inside the structure to turn off its gas valves. Coyle said both firefighters were Valero employees who’d worked with similar machinery before. Coyle said once the gas was off, the fire died within 20 or 30 seconds around 10 p.m.
“We were kind of shocked it went out as quickly as it did,” Coyle said.
Coyle said meanwhile, the departments worked together to first ensure there were no people inside the structure, then evacuate people living nearby. Once the flames were extinguished, firefighters continuously doused the structure to keep it from re-igniting.