Catastrophic Explosion Averted in Lincoln, CA

A catastrophe was averted Thursday, Aug. 24, when firefighters successfully siphoned propane from a burning tank car in a Sacramento, California, suburb. The car, filled with 29,000 pounds of liquid propane, was burning in the yard of Northern Propane Energy, in Lincoln, California.

The firefighters were able to siphon off the remaining liquid propane by 10:30 p.m., Pacific Time.

An explosion comparable to a "small thermal nuclear bomb" could have been set off as a result of the buildup of heat, Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt told MSNBC. The heat could produce a fireball several hundred yards wide and expel metal shrapnel for a mile, he was quoted as saying.

In addition to the burning tank car, another 170,000 pounds of liquid propane were stored in the yard and a natural gas pipeline was nearby.

The Associated Press said 48,000 homes were in the mandatory evacuation area while firefighters were trying to siphon propane from the tank car. The firefighters were said to be shooting water from four fire hoses at the tank car to control the burgeoning heat.

Local schools were closed until Monday. Houston, Texas, sent a national response team to help the firefighters.

Stories in the local news said the blaze could have gone on for 21 days if the siphoning had been unsuccessful or the blaze could not have been put out.

The way the gas was siphoned, according to MSNBC, was that the outer layer of the tanker was cut and a pipe was welded to the side. A stem attached to the pipe was pushed inside to force the propane into a basin that had been dug for the purpose.

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