Dangerous fuel tank fire posed major challenge

| 24/07/2017 | 59 Comments
Cayman News Service

Helicopter view of the fire inside the fuel tank

(CNS): The fire inside a tank at the bulk fuel depot on Sunday night posed major challenges for firefighters, but with the help of thermal imaging and the police helicopter video footage, the fire crews were able to contain and tackle the blaze and avoid a catastrophe. Due to the large quantity of diesel fuel inside the tank at Jackson Point, it was potentially extremely dangerous, but crews worked diligently to safely put it out, said Chief Fire Officer David Hails.

Because the fire was inside the fuel tank at the Sol Fuel Distribution Centre on South Church Street, it was very difficult to access and deal with the flames, Hails explained.

In order to prevent the fire from spreading, firefighters used cooling jets with water to cover the outside and reduce the temperature of the fuel inside. Hails added that thermal imaging cameras were a critical tool in determining the temperature inside the tank. Police also used their thermal cameras to view the hotspots from the RCIPS helicopter.

“Without these devices we would not have known there was a fire inside the tank or where it was located,” Hails explained in a release Monday. “They were essential in our overall response because if the fire had spread deeper inside the tank, we would probably have experienced a catastrophic incident. The aggressive firefighting tactics involved firefighters standing on top of the tank knowing it was on fire and that it could spread at any moment. The outstanding commitment and bravery they displayed should not go unnoticed.”

The firefighters were commended by the premier and widely applauded across social media by the public after they tackled the life threatening blaze.

The government has said that the fire will be reviewed. However, officials have not said whether they believe the depot, located in South Sound in the heart of a relatively affluent residential area and not far from a number of schools, should be moved. 

In his statement Monday, Premier Alden McLaughlin said fire crews fought the blaze for more than eight hours in hot, humid conditions wearing their heavy fire retardant suits, before the all clear was given around 3:00 Monday morning.

“I, together with the minister for home affairs and indeed the entire Cayman Islands Government, commend the first responders who worked together under challenging circumstances to quench the potentially devastating fire at the Jackson Point fuel terminal throughout Sunday night and into Monday morning,” the premier said.

The men and women of the Cayman Islands Fire Service, Police Service and other first responders did a wonderful job of keeping under control and stopping a fire that could have been fatal to themselves and residents in the surrounding area as the fire involved a large quantity of fuel. They displayed professionalism and bravery,” he added.

The premier also thanked the residents who were evacuated Sunday night for their understanding, and also thanked the staff and management of Sunset House, where the command post was established. 

Officials confirmed that initially residents within a mile radius of the fuel depot were evacuated by police, who went door to door, but it was later reduced to 1,000 feet. The Red Cross accommodated evacuees at their shelter in George Town until the all clear at around 2:45am Monday.

The RCIPS cordoned off the area and established roadblocks to divert traffic along South Church Street. The police marine vessel, Typhoon, was deployed to patrol a one-thousand foot block for any vessels at sea.

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Comments (59)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    politicians???? nobody saying anything??

  2. Anonymous says:

    Again we see the Hazard Management Dept is completely useless.

  3. Anonymous says:

    All those pushing for the relocation of the two tank facilities are overlooking the historic and physical reasons for their current locations. The coastline along South Church Street is the only naturally existing, generally sheltered and sufficiently deep sea spot where large, deep draft vessels (that cannot enter Hog Sty Bay) can moor close enough to the shore to offload cargo, in this case fuel.

    Any relocation would require a massive and cost prohibitive engineering project just to create a suitable alternative anchorage.

    The proposal to excavate such a port in East End is effectively rendered infeasible by the existence of the new hospital facility which is directly in conflict with a commercial port, fuel depot, oil refinery and every other scheme being floated out there.

  4. Wild West says:

    And cue the Compost with an editorial pushing a developer’s scheme to relocate the tank farm for his own commercial benefit.

    Makes you wonder if that developer has an interest in the newspaper and its Trumpian editorial slant.

  5. Veritas says:

    We need to know how the fire was extinguished and how it was started. I spoke with two fire officers at the scene who told me they were cooling the tank first before spraying foam on the fire. As the fire was inside the tank if foam was pumped into the tank it would presumably have contaminated the several hundred thousands of gallons of diesel lower down in the tank and this would have cost Sol a fortune.We need some honest answers.

  6. AlanP says:

    Just wait until they build a waste incinerator (a mini nuclear plant) next to Camana Bay and let rookies to run, supervise, monior and manage it.

    • Anonymous says:

      AlanP, I think you were out the day they did physics and chemistry at your skool. Sorry for using big words.

  7. People For A Dump Free G.T. says:

    Bunch of Nimby’s! Those tanks were there long before most of them! Move your damn houses and hotels if you dont like it.

  8. Fred the Piemaker says:

    Those posters suggesting that the tank farm be moved as it poses a risk to residential areas are missing the risk posed by the underground pipeline between South sound and the airport. One thing for people to buy a house next to the farm, knowing its there. Quite another to find out a huge quantity of aviation fuel is being pumped under your house. Plus, if they move the farm, how are they going to get all the AVgas from the new farm – or from a tanker – to the airport without opening North sound to tankers or shifting it all by tanker lorry.

    • Anonymous says:

      You just answered your own question. Open up the North Sound, we can also move the cargo dock back there.

      • Anonymous says:

        Good idea 1.25, except that the Noreasters and Norwesters that blow strongly a lot of the year will make that passage impassable frequently. Not to mention the depth issue, having to dig up a lot more coral than even for the proposed cruise terminal.

    • Annoy says:

      The pipeline to the airport has been decommissioned. How about you get your facts right before you try to school people.

      • Freddy says:


      • Fred the Piemaker says:

        Touche. But I don’t recall any public advice that the pipeline had been decommissioned – bit difficult to get ones facts right if there is no access to the facts. Glad its out of service and the safety hazard has been contained.

        • Veritas says:

          Fred, you are right, only well connected locals have all this information. Originally the pipeline was scheduled to go through Point 4, but the well informed locals there objected. Next thing we heard was it was going right down the middle of Phelan Close and it was a done deal, unlike our neighbours we had no choice, but then we have no well connected locals.

    • Freddy says:

      Pipeline to airport was taken out of service from February. and also flushed with water for the whole 4 miles of line and that shouldn”t be a cause of concern

    • Anonymous says:

      There were 2 pipelines from the Jackson Point area: i) AVjet to the airport and ii) Diesel to CUC. I believe that the CUC line is still operational.
      However one has to ask – is it safer to transport diesel or jet fuel via underground pipelines or by tanker trucks on Cayman roads?

  9. Anonymous says:

    The use of the helicopter and it’s thermal imaging camera I would estimate to be upwards of $2000 per hour. A drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera would cost a fraction of the operating costs of the helicopter, could be operated by fire personnel, and also used much more effectively to determine how safe it is for fire personnel to approach the tank. What’s more, in the event that the drone is consumed by fire, the only loss is a replaceable piece of equipment. Just check how many other fire departments and rescue agencies are using drones.

    • Anonymous says:

      Jeez, why is EVERYONE an expert. I’d like to see you do better in this situation Mr Anonymous

      • Anonymous says:

        Because the government have proved themselves they are not experts. Remember the helicopter purchase? No specs nothing, just forked over a whole heap of money for an aircraft that could not fulfill the role of search and rescue. The above poster makes a very good point and it is not about ‘doing better’ it is about cost effectivity. Instead of criticizing with no basis, come up with arguments to counter the suggestion.

  10. Retired Captain says:

    As the saying goes, there are more questions than answers.
    A fire cannot spontaneously ignite inside a closed tank containing diesel oil. A fire inside a tank of the type at Jackson’s Point will consume all of the available oxygen in less than an hour and self-extinguish. Spraying water on the tank-top to cool it makes perfect sense; why it apparently burned for so long doesn’t. Did no-one think to close the vents?

    There are reports that a new tank was being built at the terminal, is there a connection? Was someone welding or using a spark-producing tool such as a grinder?

    There are still enough former seamen around who have served on very large tankers and are familiar with these matters to know, so it is to be hoped that a proper technical explanation will be forthcoming before the incident is forgotten.

    • Sharkey says:

      I agree with the Retired Captain . That there’s more questions than answers in this fire . The Government needs to step in and get the answers . The Government RESPONSIBILITY is to keep the Islands and it’s PEOPLE SAFE , NOT the oil Companies .

      What I think is going on with these 60 years old tanks is that they just keeps patching them up to avoid putting in new ones . Maybe all of those tanks needs to be replaced with new ones with more safety technology in them , and common sense in working around them .
      Just imagine if that had been a propane or gasoline tank that was been worked on. It would have been a catastrophic disaster .

      • Anonymous says:

        Well Sharkey…..I agree, but…

        The Premier has the responsibility of “National Security”.

        Therefore, Mr. McLaughlin will need to speak to this, asap. But will he?

    • Anonymous says:

      I heard they were welding something to the tank which caused the heat which led to the fire.

      • Anonymous says:

        Who is they, Sol personnel or contractors? My bet is a cowboy contractor caused this. Even when a tank is half empty fuel tends to settle on the upper ring beams on the inside of the tank. Welding on the outside is enough to set this off. There are certain precautions that have to be taken prior to this kind of hot work being done. The contractor responsible most likely cut corners and didn’t do the proper prep.
        The regulator should suspend the contractor’s licence until all employees are vetted/ trained. All expenses for the incident to be paid by the contractor and slap a heavy fine ($100K). This might force strict compliance but the regulator needs to do periodic unannounced shakedowns to ensure future risk is minimised.

  11. Gutty feelings says:

    Simple. Just move the Dump to the Bodden Town side, and then move the Tanks to Mt Trashmore. That way if they ever blow up, Mt. Trashmore would be able to take it!

  12. Elvis says:

    Well done fire chief, this is why we hire tried and tested leaders folks

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes this has absolutely nothing to do with the training the officers have been getting or the dedication they have been showing. If not for the present Chief our officers would have all been sitting around scratching their heads trying to figure out what to do…. go back to Graceland.

      • Anonymous says:

        it has everything to do with the training they got, and everything to do with who’s been training them. The Fire Chief..

  13. Anonymous says:

    Sure Sol is covering up things as they haven’t released a statement to gov.
    There are steps for this kind of work that was being placed on the tank. You have to monitor the tank during the hole time work is being placed as the environment changes during the day.
    Fire watch and gas testing at all times.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you seen some of their contractors, they cut major corners and probably don’t even bother to have a gas meter on hand. Cowboys!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, apparently I am posting to quickly. Maybe I should just say Baaahh and just roll over like all the other sheep on this rock. Maybe it is okay that we are short changed, at every turn. Maybe it is okay that the ordinary man is shafted daily, maybe it is okay that our elected representatives think we are too stupid to see the reports we paid to have conducted. Maybe it is okay that we have no patriots, because we have a ‘culture’ of booty grabbing and buck passing. Sooo sorry CNS for having a conscience. Do not worry, this is my last post.
    Kirk out.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Why was the emergency text service that was tested a while back not used for this potential catastrophe?

    • Keith Sahm says:

      Exactly! I applaud all in the Fire Services and the RCIPS for their actions, especially with so much uncertainty. But on our way out with our guests, I asked officers on who and how would give the “stand down” announcement. At two different check points, I was told, just listen to the radio in my car. Now, I can get FLOW telling me I can win a Nokia phone for some other crazy announcement about a sale, but a director of communications cannot use this technology as well, where one could find out more information? Simon Boxall was doing a great job posting and keeping people informed (hind site) on the Hazard Management site, but no one thought about looking there. A simple text would have led most people in the Cayman Islands to an outstanding communications portal to receive updates.

    • Anonymous says:

      Who is the face of Hazard Management? What is their role and function as the supposed umbrella organization for actual or potential disasters and why are they so silent? If they are not on top of this then they are negligent.

  16. Anonymous says:

    It is usually the case that for any action to be taken CIG has to experience a near disaster. Time for the fuel depot to move to an area where residential development is not an issue and forbidden.

  17. Veritas says:

    It is not clear exactly how the fire was put out as the tank was presumably sealed and there is no mention of any rupture and no flames were evident at least from a couple of hundred yards away.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Would have been nice to have some info from GIG. Sorry if it was inconvenient. I mean really WTF? I had to get a call from my niece to know that I needed to evacuate?

    We were lucky, it did not explode. But what if it had? Does CIG want a body count. Maybe we can lay odds at the Seminole Casino. That seems more important to them than getting off there asses on a Sunday night to save lives.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Another great example of how our civil service has changed over the past few years. So refreshing to see civil servants properly trained and having all the right equipment to do their jobs. Thank you fire officers and first responders.

  20. Anonymous says:

    An independent investigation is the only way to find the route cause of this near catastrophe. Findings need to be published so the surrounding neighborhood is aware of the risk. OfReg should be accountable and coordinate the investigation although I sincerely doubt their ability to change the situation. Inspections only seem to happen after the fact.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I am no expert, but the question I would like to ask is how does a fire burn ‘inside’ a closed tank without oxygen? Accepting there maybe vents to allow pumping out, would not a basic fire protection system have the ability to close them? I’m just curious and not in anyway attempting to down play what was a very dangerous situation, but surely city planning and regulations would demand such protections in a densely populated area? Thank goodness it was contained and I hope the results of the investigation will be made public. Normally installations such as this have an abundance of protective systems.

  22. R. Brandeis says:

    Cayman has become a larger City and those tanks have been there for a long time. It is time that GC addresses their issues of moving the tanks from the residential area and close to schools. Moving the dump elsewhere. Stopping immigration that has now grown to an unsustainable level and get with a realistic infrastructure. Have Dart tell you what to do because they do world class projects.
    You all have McKeeva Bush League Wacko for bringing your population up to over 60,000. Your streets are overcrowded and your stress level is out of control.
    Have the out dated tanks moved asap!
    It’s a bad idea and now that the wake up call has been had we hope you Government folks will do something about this.

    • Phil says:

      It is the government fault for allow buildings to built around the oil tanks…and it will be far too expensive to move whole oil terminal to East end. They would be better to invest renewable energy than moving oil tanks.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeah, its the government’s fault those people couldn’t see the giant oil tanks over there and figure out they might be a potential risk. Govt. needs better eye glasses service for the people.

        Newsflash – if you live close to the coast you’re at increased risk for storm damage! CIG get on this right away!

  23. Anonymous says:

    As a resident I wish to commend the CIFS specifically and the other responders as well. I saw quite a number of civil servants out on a Sunday night being cognizant of their jobs, to include Hazard Management, Petroleum Inspector, OSH Officer and off duty RCIPS officers.
    All are to be commended for the great work. I however have to question the need for the Fire Chief to be battling the blaze, should he not have been giving commands from a secure position away from the incident. I don’t claim to be an expert or even have knowledge, but common sense tells me that his role could have been better utilized elsewhere. Just my 2 cents. In closing, thanks again to all the dedicated, hardworking and unselfish Civil Servants. Maybe the government will recognize ALL who were on the scene last night.

    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe he was giving the firefighters who had been there all evening, fighting the fire, a well earned break to grab a water before heading back to fight it again!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Its their friggin job!

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes it might be their job, but I saw many who were clearly off or not on the roster for that particular shift. All I was saying is that at least we have some civil servants who are responsible and take their roles seriously.

    • Anonymous says:

      It is so great that they got it contained. My issue is, as a resident within half a mile of Jackson point, why was I not notified that I needed to evacuate? We need to learn from this event, and put in better notification guidelines.

      • Anonymous says:

        I also live within the 1 mile radius and no one came knocking on my door to tell me to evacuate!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      If this had gone the other way, my children and I would be dead. We received NO notification of this threat. Sol owes us an explanation.

      • AlanP says:

        Sorry to be blunt, but You should have used your common sense. Living next to the oil terminal is no brainer.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sol doesn’t owe you, but the CIG does owe us all an explanation.

        They remain silent as always.

      • Anonymous says:

        How would you be dead, the fire didn’t even leave the tank.

        • Anonymous says:

          A lot of people would be dead if any of those tanks exploded. One giant explosion would spread like wild fire and most people have gas tanks or generators around their properties, not to mention pipe lines under their houses running to and from. You talk about a national disaster we would have on our hands?

          It would be horrible.

    • Fred the Piemaker says:

      I suspect the fire Chief has considerable greater experience of fighting major fires than his team, or for that matter you. I applaud him for getting forward and lending his leadership and experience to the crews In harms way. Perhaps you should too rather than armchair quarterback a highly dangerous profession in which you apparently have no expertise.

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