Explosions & Fire Destroy Kansas Tank Farm

Jay K. Bradish describes a multi-alarm hazmat emergency.


On July 17, 2007, explosions and fire at Barton Solvents Inc. destroyed a tank farm consisting of about 40 tanks with capacities ranging from 3,000 to 20,000 gallons each. At the time of the incident, a tank truck containing varnish-makers and painters naphtha was being offloaded and pumped into a...


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On July 17, 2007, explosions and fire at Barton Solvents Inc. destroyed a tank farm consisting of about 40 tanks with capacities ranging from 3,000 to 20,000 gallons each. At the time of the incident, a tank truck containing varnish-makers and painters naphtha was being offloaded and pumped into a 15,000-gallon above-ground storage tank. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) classifies varnish-makers and painters naphtha as a flammable liquid that is used in the painting and coating industries. Barton Solvents packages and delivers solvents and chemical products.

The Valley Center Fire Department was dispatched at 9:11 A.M. to the facility. Two engines and a squad responded with eight firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Lonnie Tormey. Upon arrival, firefighters encountered heavy fire, explosions and heavy black smoke coming from the tank farm. Mutual aid was immediately requested from Sedgwick County Fire District 1 and the Wichita Fire Department. An immediate evacuation of the surrounding area up to a half-mile in all directions was ordered. Exposures included five railcars, a 33,154-square-foot warehouse and office building, and several tractor-trailers.

Sedgwick Quint 32 was positioned at the southeast side of the warehouse and supplied by a 500-foot, five-inch supply line. This unit placed its aerial master stream into operation to protect the warehouse. Firefighters also deployed an unmanned monitor supplied by a five-inch supply line and a blitz attack monitor supplied with a three-inch line from Quint 32. Wichita Engine 1 was positioned north of the tank farm and fed with a 100-foot, five-inch supply line laid by Sedgwick Engine 33 to a hydrant. Wichita Engine 1 placed an unmanned monitor into operation on the north side of the warehouse supplied with a 500-foot, five-inch supply line to protect the five rail cars. The railroad was contacted and removed the rail cars from the area. Once this was completed, the Wichita Engine 1 crew moved the monitor to the west side of the warehouse to protect it from fire.

Additional mutual aid was requested from the Colwich Fire Department, McConnell Air Force Base Fire Department, Boeing Aircraft Company Fire Department and Frontier Oil Refinery Fire Department for foam apparatus and foam supplies. Colwich responded with 85 gallons of AR-AFFF foam that was obtained from Abengoa Co., an ethanol plant in Colwich; Boeing responded with two ARFF crash trucks and a chief's vehicle; McConnell sent one ARFF crash truck and water tender; and Frontier responded with one engine with 1,200 gallons of AR-AFFF foam.

With the arrival of the foam apparatus, incident commanders and plant personnel determined that it would be best to attack the fire from the northeast side. An initial attempt using a Boeing crash truck proved ineffective. This unit was not able to reach the elevated heights that were necessary to extinguish the fire and the unit ran out of water prior to extinguishing the fire.

The Boeing unit was then removed from the area and McConnell's crash truck and tender were moved into position. Valley Center Engine 411 laid a five-inch supply line from a hydrant to a hole cut in the fence along the west side of the complex. Wichita Aerial Platform 1 hooked onto the hydrant and pumped this supply line to Valley Center Engine 411. This engine supplied McConnell's tender, which in turn fed McConnell's crash truck. This time, the fire was attacked from the northwest side of the tank farm. This attempt also was unsuccessful due to the inability to reach and maintain a constant water flow to the tops of the tanks.

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