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Fire Could Burn Five Days

April 6, 1987

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) _ A 65-foot-tall flame at an underground gas storage terminal could roar for five more days if efforts to snuff it are unsuccessful, a company official said Sunday.

An explosion at the Mid-America Pipeline Co. plant east of Iowa City set off a spectacular fire Saturday evening and forced the evacuation of about 100 families within 2 1/2 miles of the terminal.

All but 15 evacuated families were allowed to return home Sunday as the fire continued to burn, said Johnson County Sheriff Gary Hughes. The new evacuation area extends about a mile in each direction from the plant.

Officials had been concerned that heat from the flame would cause two 10,000 gallon tanks of methanol at the plant to explode, but water was sprayed to cool them, West Branch Fire Chief Dick Stoolman said.

Hughes said 11 of the 15 families still evacuated could go home to get clothing and other belongings or to feed livestock. ″We would not recommend that they stay, though,″ he said.

D.G. Prescott of Des Moines, the pipeline company’s division manager, said at a news conference that it could take five days to pump 5.5 million gallons of an ethanol-propane gas mixture out of a 14.7 million-gallon reservoir 710 feet below the plant.

The earliest the flame could be capped was late Sunday, officials said.

Two Mid-America employees at the plant at the time of the fire were not injured, Prescott said. Stoolman said two firefighters had been slightly injured.

Prescott said the burning chemical, used in manufacturing plastics and as a fuel, is not toxic. ″There are no toxic fumes. It is highly flammable, but not toxic,″ he said.

Firefighters have gotten no closer than about 70 feet from the fire, Stoolman said. ″It’s so hot you can’t stand it. You have to have water sprayed on you to get there,″ Stoolman said.

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