About 100 firefighters battled a tricky, and potentially disastrous, fire at a gas-storage terminal Monday night along the Schuylkill River in Southwest Philadelphia, and it remains unclear what caused the blaze, officials say.
They then aided facility workers in successfully pulling off the risky maneuver of getting close to the 1,000-degree flames to shut off a valve that was leaking ethanol, the fire commissioner said Tuesday. That is a fuel made from corn that is combined with refined gas to power motor vehicles and other energy-needy sources.
The fire broke out shortly after 6:30 p.m. at the Point Breeze Terminal in Southwest Philadelphia Monday night.
"We determined it would be a reasonable risk, even though this was a very hazardous evolution, it was a reasonable risk to move a couple teams and go in and shut off the valves to prevent the product from the tank, it's an ethanol-storage tank," city Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said.
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Three weeks ago, the city released a issued a 45-page report on the June explosions at a nearby South Philadelphia refinery. That fire took months to officially place under control by the city fire department.
The Philadelphia Energy Solutions blaze renewed a long-simmering debate over having facilities that hold massive amounts of explosive gases so close to residential neighborhoods.
Thiel co-authored the report. It highlighted location as a negative for urban gas facilities due to the potential for catastrophe.
"The geographic context in which the Philadelphia refinery is situated is far from ideal in many ways. While the site has many positive benefits to the refinery due to its infrastructure and access to road, rail, and water transport, it sits amid one of the most densely populated parts of the U.S.
The fire Monday evening that occurred at the facility owned by Kinder Morgan, 6304 West Passyunk Avenue, broke out near a couple of the eight massive drums on site.
One of the nearest tanks contained 1.5 million gallons of ethanol, Thiel said.
The facility sits roughly half a mile from densely-populated neighborhoods west of Lindbergh Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.
It was placed under control about 9 p.m.
An unknown amount of ethanol was released, but contained to the area adjacent to the tank, Thiel said.
"At this time, air monitoring is being conducted and is reporting that there continue to be no offsite impacts. Air quality monitoring at the facility perimeter during the fire showed no air quality threat to the public during the incident," Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Lexey Long said in a statement Tuesday. "Cleanup activities are underway and Kinder Morgan is recovering and removing the product from the impacted area. The facility is shut down, and repair and remediation plans are being developed. Local emergency responders remain on site and the streets surrounding the facility are now open."