SPOKANE -- A fuel fire at a north Spokane fuel depot involving up to seven fuel tanks has triggered a three-alarm response and a mandatory evacuation within the vicinity of the conflagration.
The fire was first reported at about 5:30 p.m. with multiple calls coming in at Whitley Fuel Depot located at 2733 North Pittsburg in northeast Spokane.
Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams, during an early evening media briefing, confirmed that around 3:30 p.m. two tanker trucks carrying 5,500 gallons of diesel fuel parked on the west end of the Whitley fuel complex. The fire ignited underneath one of those trucks and quickly spread to tanker trucks filled with biodiesel and to a nearby warehouse filled with 55-gallon drums loaded with various petroleum products.
The fire created its own weather and added to the already high winds blowing at the time of the day frustrating the firefighting efforts. Exploding fuel containers also held firefighters at bay from getting closer in to battle the blaze.
Within minutes of the initial response the fire department began a mandatory evacuation within a one block radius of the fire, upgrading the response to a two-alarm fire and then subsequently a third alarm was called in to bring more resources to bear against the fire.
People within a six block radius of the fire were asked to stay in their homes while this fire was burning due to the the explosions of fuel tanks that could send shrapnel over a wide area. Police have completely blocked off the area between Perry and Crestline, and Illinois and North Foothills.
Additionally, Spokane International Airport and Fairchild Air Force Base have sent equipment and personnel to help fight the fire and another fire district is on standby to send equipment and personnel to help fight the fire.
Officials at Fire Dispatch asked motorists to stay away from the area as the neighborhood is already congested with fire companies responding to the scene. The Spokane Police Department is providing perimeter security and traffic control around the fire scene to keep vehicles out of the vicinity.
The Red Cross has crews on the scene assisting firefighters by providing them food and water.
Several eyewitnesses reported before evacuating the area that there were multiple explosions, possibly from more than one fuel container, when the fire began.
One eyewitness, Linda, was coming home from work and reported seeing several personal vehicles on fire and that with every explosion flaming fuel blew outward, increasing the size of the blaze.
When the fire was first reported thick clouds of black smoke could be seen across the city skyline blowing eastward toward Spokane Valley. The smoke was visible from Rosalia, Newman Lake and Post Falls, Idaho.
The small fuel depot is owned by Whitley Fuel LLC. Rob Leach, a former Whitley Fuel employee, describes Whitley Fuel as a "big gas station". The site is a storage facility with up to eight eighty to 100,000 gallon fuel tanks that can hold either diesel or gasoline, Leach said.
Avista has both electrical and natural gas crews on the scene and they are planning on de-energizing power in the surrounding area as a safety precaution for fire crews on an as-needed basis.
The damage to the fuel depot appears to be extensive and at least one adjoining business has suffered damage as well. An employee at Wheelchair Transport - which is located next to Whitley's - confirmed that they had lost most of their transport vans in the fire.
There are no reports of any casualties at this time; Chief Williams said that all six employees that work at the Whitley Fuel Depot have been accounted for. Two firefighters were injured but they were treated and released.
The Department of Ecology and the EPA will be responding to evaluate environmental impact of the petroleum products spilling out into the surrounding ecosystem around the depot.