Water in Short Supply During 5-Alarm Fire At Council Bluffs Petroleum Site
A five-alarm fire that burned for more than eight hours destroyed the Stern Oil Company in the Lewis Township, IA, Fire District on Oct. 26, 2006. The rural location of the business made it difficult to provide an adequate water supply for firefighting operations — the nearest hydrant was 1½ miles away.
The one-story metal building was erected in 1998 with a steel frame, sheet metal sides and a metal roof. The 60-by-125-foot building was used as a distribution warehouse for petroleum products. Several outside storage tanks were also destroyed. An office area inside the steel building was constructed of ordinary materials. There were no fire alarm or fire suppression systems in the building.
The Lewis Township Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to the oil company at 4:30 A.M. Engines 1761 and 1762, Tanker 1773, Utility 1785 and Squad 1751 responded with 20 firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Tom Blackburn. The Treynor Volunteer Fire Department automatically responded with an engine, two tankers and a utility truck and the Pacific Junction Volunteer Fire Department sent an engine, a tanker and a squad truck.
Upon arrival, firefighters found a pickup truck near the front of the building fully engulfed and the office area fully involved. Firefighters placed one attack line into service through the side door and a second line into operation in the loading dock area from Engine 1761. Two attack lines were put in operation in the office area from Pacific Junction's engine. Interior crews operated for 15 minutes before evacuating the building due to deteriorating conditions.
Additional mutual aid was requested from several fire departments over the next few hours. The Carter Lake, Council Bluffs, Crescent, Glenwood, McClelland, Neola, Oak Township and Underwood fire departments responded with apparatus and manpower. Additional mutual aid units from Nebraska responded including Bellevue Fire Department, Offutt Air Force Base and the Omaha Airport Authority.
In an effort to ensure an adequate water supply could be established, command obtained the use of two construction company water tankers and three cement mixers to haul water. Once an adequate water supply was established and enough foam was on hand, a coordinated attack was made with master stream devices and handlines flowing foam. Blackburn declared the fire under control at 12:47 P.M. Mutual aid units were released at 1:25 P.M. The last Lewis Township units left the scene at 3:07 P.M. Two firefighters were injured. Damage was estimated at $2 million. Contaminated runoff water was contained on the property by constructing dikes and ditches and building a dirt berm.