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Firefighters Gain Ground Against Jet Fuel Tank Fire

November 27, 1990

DENVER (AP) _ Patience, and a quarter of the water Denver uses in one day, helped firefighters rein in a fire Monday that burned more than 1.9 million gallons of jet fuel at a tank farm near Stapleton International Airport.

The strategy of the 150 firefighters was to let the fire that began Sunday consume fuel in the ignited tanks and prevent it from spreading by drenching nearby tanks with water and foam.

″We, at this point in time, feel like everything is under our grasp,″ said Denver Fire Department Capt. Nick Nuanes. ″Things are going real, real good. The intensity has dropped dramatically.″

Meanwhile, the black smoke from the fire that darkened the sky and caused potential health problems was tracked with help from a crew of computer scientists at Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant.

The fire at the Ogden Allied Services Corp. tank farm began when a valve on a 400,000-gallon storage tank broke and jet fuel began to leak. The flames eventually spread to three other tanks.

The facility has 12 storage tanks with a capacity of 12.5 million gallons of fuel. They include the primary fuel source for United Airlines, which was forced on Sunday to delay and cancel an undetermined number of its 186 flights into and out of Denver.

But the carrier was nearly back on schedule Monday after finding alternate fuel sources, said Joe Hopkins, a United spokesman in Chicago.

The fire caused few problems for other airlines at Stapleton because most had alternate sources of fuel on hand. Stapleton is the nation’s fourth- busiest airport in passenger volume.

By midday Monday firefighters had used 15,000 gallons of foam. About 24 million gallons of water had been poured on the blaze, about one-fourth the water used in the city system on an average fall day.

Temperatures near the fire reached 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, well beyond the melting point of iron.

By Monday, the fire that consumed fuel in two 400,000 gallon capacity tanks left them blackened, crumpled masses of metal.

But flames continued to burn in one tank containing about 350,000 gallons of fuel and in an 800,000-gallon tank. Officials said the latter held enough fuel to burn until about midday Wednesday.

Authorities decided to let the fuel burn, rather than attempt to smother the fire and face potential ground contamination, Nuanes said.

″We’d like to see the fuel burn itself off,″ he said. ″We’re not going to attempt to extinguish the fire. We don’t want a contamination problem on our hands.″

Rocky Flats scientists helped Colorado health officials by using a computer model to forecast the path of the fire’s smoke.

The plume of black, billowing smoke twisted in several directions across Denver as a storm front traveled through the city, but was headed southwest late in the day, said Reed Hodgin, manager of emergency assessments for EG&G Inc., which operates the weapons plant north of Denver.

″The (computer) model has been very accurate as far as what we’ve seen the plume do,″ said Steve Arnold, manager of the technical services program at the Colorado Department of Health.

The Rocky Flats team helped state health officials determine whether the plume will affect the population and which it might affect most, Arnold said.

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