Oil Storage Tank Fire in Patoka, Illinois

The only option for local firefighters to extinguish the fire was to put foam up over the top of the tank.


Tuesday evening on April 5, 2005, just after 7pm, lightning struck a crude oil storage tank located in Patoka, Illinois. The tank is part of a facility that can store an estimated 11 million barrels of crude in 64 tanks. Patoka Fire District provides fire protection for the rural facility. Just after leaving the station, Patoka firefighters put out a mutual aid call for additional help. Departments from Sandoval, Odin, Kinmundy-Alma, Salem, and Vandalia responded to the scene. The fire could be seen for over 15 miles.

After meeting with the facility managers, it was decided to try and keep the tank cool until a plan of attack could be arranged. The tank, which measured 150 feet wide by 62 feet tall, was in the process of being taken out of service for maintenance. At the time of the lighting strike, the tank only had an estimated 400 barrels of product in it. Cooling the tank proved to be difficult because of high winds and the fact that firefighters had restricted entry into the containment area. Because of the small amount of product in the tank, the floating roof was some six feet above the crude level and created a large vapor space and the potential for an additional explosion. A normal operation would have been to pump crude back into the tank and reduce the vapor space, but because of the existing plan for maintenance, that simply was not an option. Normally, these tanks have an external connection for firefighters to inject foam to the roof of the tank, but because of the pending maintenance, it also was not in operation.

Due to the high winds and type of equipment on the scene, it was going to be impossible to achieve that feat. After talking with local managers and their managers in Texas, it was decided to let the fire burn throughout the night. Williams Fire & Hazard Control of Texas, was brought in the next morning to lend assistance. Williams brought with them two large systems that could flow 3000 gpm of foam. Williams also had their own foam trucked in from a facility in Northern Indiana. Over 2500 gal of 1% foam was used in the operation that had the fire out by 2:30 pm on Wednesday, April 6, 2005.