Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cause of Ojai Oil Fire Unknown

By Sondra Murphy

Some Ojai residents discovered that not all’s well that ends an oil well.
Leland Hammerschmitt was relaxing Tuesday night when the earth shook. “It’s the largest explosion I’ve ever felt,” said Hammerschmitt. “I was watching TV and savoring the Lakers’ win over the despised Celtics. Suddenly, there was an orange flash, followed by half a beat and then, ‘ka-bam.’ I felt the shock wave and the house shook.”
Hammerschmitt went outside to have a look. “The flames were huge and you could tell that it wasn’t just a structure burning, but something that was being fed.” When he called 911, the operator immediately asked if he was calling about the explosion, “So obviously Ojai reacted very swiftly,” said Hammerschmitt. “I said to the 911 person, ‘Whatever you’re sending, send more. You’re going to need it.’”
The late night oil tank explosion and fire at Bentley Family Limited Partnership property located off Creek Road took about 75 firefighters from seven different agencies to contain. According to Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash, personnel and engines responded to the scene from state, county, Ventura City, Santa Paula City, Oxnard City and the federal agency at Point Mugu.
“The call came in at 11:04 p.m. as an explosion with fire. On arrival, we found about a quarter of an acre of oil tanks with fire spreading into the brush,” said Nash. “There were six tanks there and two were completely destroyed. The lid to one of the oil tanks was found 200 feet away. We figured that’s where the ‘boom’ came from.”
Nash said the fire was located on private property in what appeared to be an agricultural and industrial area away from residential neighborhoods. “The oil tank fire was stopped by Ventura County Fire Crash 50, which is a foam fire engine primarily used to fight crash fires. We spread a layer of fire retardant foam, which smothers the fire. By doing that, we greatly reduced the amount of hazardous runoff from the fire. We were very concerned that spilled oil products not enter the waterways in any way.”
Oil fires are perilous to combat. “It was a very dangerous scene but there were no injuries,” said Nash. “Environmental Health responded due to environmental concerns.”
Lack of wind and the cool temperatures worked to aid their efforts. “We were able to get containment of the fire within a couple of hours,” said Nash. “The June gloom helped us a little bit. The big concern was knocking down the oil fire. Once that was contained, we were able to get to the brushfire and after about 2:30 a.m., we were able to release some of the units.”
Nash said that because of the hazards associated with oil, they kept firefighters at the scene overnight to monitor the situation and continue to check on the investigation and cleanup. “Oil is a flammable liquid, which means that it emits vapors,” said Nash. “If those vapors reach a little ember, it is relatively dangerous. Anything that causes a spark could ignite it again.”
Back at Persimmon Hill, Hammerschmitt was still reeling from the experience. “I don’t know what a 500-pound or 2,000-pound bomb’s shock wave would feel like from less than a mile, but this could be very close and that is impressive.”
According to BFLP spokes-man Chuck Rodham, the property is just less than 1,000 acres and has producing wells from which oil is tanked out. He said the three tanks that burned were not full and it appears the foam did its job. “No oil was released,” said Rodham. “Everything stayed in the tank area.” He said the losses are still being determined.
Greg Smith, manager of the hazardous materials section of Ventura County Department of Environmental Health, said that they had someone on the scene around 3 a.m. and saw no signs of environmental damage as daylight helped the investigation. “The oil had been contained onto the property. There was some crude oil released, probably a few hundred gallons or so, but it did not reach any sensitive habitats and there was no runoff into the creeks.”
The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I felt the blast on the East End. It felt like an animal had fallen out of the sky and thumped off of the roof. I'm grateful no one was hurt.