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Fuel Tank Experts Snuff Out Fire at Denver Airport

November 28, 1990

DENVER (AP) _ Five experts in fireproof suits waded into a blaze feeding on as much as 2.3 million gallons of jet fuel and in half an hour snuffed a fire that had burned for 53 hours at Stapleton International Airport.

″It’s just like the fire forgot what to do,″ said Dwight Williams, owner of Williams, Boots & Coots of Port Neches, Texas. He was one of the five men who extinguished the blaze Tuesday.

The crew sprayed a smothering chemical on an 800,000-gallon tank and a 350,000-gallon tank after firefighters cooled the two containers that had burned since Monday with foam and water so the men could get near the valves.

The larger tank was one-third to one-half full; the other had only a fraction of fuel.

Up to 150 firefighters had battled the blaze but admitted they weren’t up to the task in tools or expertise.

″The reality is this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often and there are very few people who do it on a regular basis,″ said Fire Chief Richard Gonzales.

Denver officials had planned to let the fire burn itself out but changed their strategy after consulting Williams, Boots & Coots. Continental Airlines, which owns four tanks at the storage area, hired the specialists and flew them in.

Gonzales said it took 13 minutes to suffocate the bigger blaze and 17 minutes more to snuff the other.

″It’s like riding bad horses or jumping out of an airplane,″ said Williams, who formed the company 11 years ago. ″And I’ve done both.″

A broken valve on a 400,000-gallon tank was thought to have touched off the fire, which broke out Sunday and spread to a 400,000-gallon tank. Those two tanks burned themselves out Monday, but not before igniting the two other tanks.

The four tanks and a 24-inch pipeline had a capacity of about 2.3 million gallons of fuel, but it was not immediately clear how much burned at the tank farm a half mile from the airport terminal.

The fire reduced the two 400,000-gallon tanks to smoldering, crumpled hulks but left the two others standing. All four tanks were owned by United Airlines.

The fire forced the airline Sunday to reschedule and delay flights. By Monday, United had solved its shortage by flying in fuel and using tanker trucks.

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