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Industrial fire sends hazardous cloud over West Fargo: Fuel terminal blaze prompts shelter-in-place warning

Black smoke fills the sky over West Fargo Sunday morning from a fire at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 12
Smoke from a fire from the Magellan tank farm blows across Main Avenue in West Fargo to create an erie scene on Sunday morning. David Samson / Forum News Service2 / 12
Fire crews monitor the scene Sunday morning of a fire at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue in West Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service3 / 12
Black smoke fills the sky over West Fargo Sunday morning from a fire at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue. David Samson / Forum News Service4 / 12
A fire rages on the exterior of a tank holding diesel fuel at the Magellan Midstream Partners tank farm in West Fargo on Sunday morning. In this photo taken by a law enforcement drone, some of the more than 35 firefighters from several area agencies who fought the blaze can be seen. They were eventually able to extinguish the blaze using 500 gallons of foam and 400,000 gallons of water. Special to Forum News Service5 / 12
Black smoke engulfs the fire crews on standby Sunday morning at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue in West Fargo.David Samson / Forum News Service6 / 12
Black smoke billows from a fire Sunday morning at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue in West Fargo.David Samson / Forum News Service7 / 12
A West Fargo fireman walks through the scene of a fire Sunday morning at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue in West Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service8 / 12
Black smoke fills the sky over West Fargo Sunday morning from a fire at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue. David Samson / Forum News Service9 / 12
A law enforcement drone captured this photo of the scorched exterior of a diesel fuel storage tank in West Fargo after a fire outside the tank was extinguished Sunday. Special to Forum News Service10 / 12
Black smoke fills the sky over West Fargo Sunday morning from a fire at the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue. David Samson / Forum News Service11 / 12
A firefighting tanker from Hector Airport is used Sunday morning at the scene of the Magellan tank farm along Main Avenue in West Fargo. David Samson / Forum News Service12 / 12

WEST FARGO — A large fire outside a diesel fuel storage tank at the Magellan Midstream Partners fuel terminal here was safely extinguished after burning more than seven hours and sending up a cloud of hazardous black smoke on Sunday, Feb. 18.

Shortly after 5 a.m., dozens of firefighters were dispatched to the blaze at the terminal at 902 Main Ave. E., Assistant Police Chief Jerry Boyer said.

The fire occurred on piping connections next to the storage tank, Magellan spokesman Bruce Heine said. About 1,200 gallons of diesel fuel leaked or burned as a result of the fire, he said.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known. No one was reported injured, authorities said.

Photos taken by a law enforcement drone show one face of the white tank was heavily scorched and blackened by the blaze.

From Main Avenue and Ninth Street East, flames could be seen among the cluster of tanks through much of the morning. Meanwhile, thick billows of greasy black smoke could be seen for miles as they rose from the tank farm and were blown by the wind in a plume south across the city.

Authorities initially issued a shelter-in-place advisory for anyone within a 5-mile radius, and nearby residents received automated phone calls alerting them to the situation. That advisory was lifted shortly before 1 p.m., Boyer said.

Police and fire officials said the smoke was "hazardous, but not toxic."

Fargo Cass Public Health said excessive exposure to the smoke could cause irritation to the nose, throat, lungs and respiratory tract. The smoke was especially a danger to young children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions, officials said.

Public health officials monitoring air quality eventually determined that it was "good," Boyer said at a news conference at West Fargo City Hall about 1 p.m.

Fighting fire with foam

Each tank at the terminal has a dike system around it, and firefighters reinforced the dike around the affected tank to contain foam and liquid once it was used on the flames, Boyer said.

Firefighters began applying about 500 gallons of foam and 400,000 gallons of water to the fire shortly before noon. The change was immediate, with the black smoke quickly turning to white as the chemicals and water knocked down the blaze.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said the blaze was extinguished by about 12:10 p.m., though Boyer said firefighters dealt with a flare-up before the fire was officially out. The blaze was considered extinguished at about 12:45 p.m., Heine said.

Hazardous materials teams then began to clean up the scene, Boyer said. The investigation into the cause of the fire would start as soon as the area was deemed safe for investigators, he said.

The affected tank had a 43,000-barrel capacity and contained ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, Heine said.

When the fire broke out, it contained 30,000 barrels of fuel, and firefighters worked to transfer the tank's contents into another tank even as the fire burned, Boyer said.

West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller said the fire had posed little risk of an explosion.

Fargo fire crews, North Dakota National Guard firefighters, and staff from BNSF railroad and Hector International Airport helped the West Fargo Fire Department deal with the blaze. At least 35 firefighters were at the scene, Boyer said.

Law enforcement personnel from the Grand Forks area brought in a drone to help monitor the fire from above.

'Right in my neighborhood'

Magellan officials said their employees were at the site and that "all appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified."

Heine said the pipelines into and out of the terminal were shut down early Sunday morning and truck loading was suspended.

About 10:15 a.m., Marilyn Barnes, who works at the Casey's General Store at 901 Main Ave. E., said that when she arrived at work early Sunday, she saw the flames and dark smoke rising from the terminal.

The manager of the gas station and convenience store initially ordered the fuel pumps shut down, Barnes said, but then consulted with emergency workers and turned them back on after learning there was no danger for them to be in use.

Barnes said she lives by 17th Street East, south of Main Avenue, not far from the Magellan tank farm.

"It's right in my neighborhood. I was very nervous," Barnes said. "I had hoped the smoke would go west, but of course, it's coming over our store."

The West Fargo Parks Department and the West Fargo School District cancelled Sunday activities north of Interstate 94. South of I-94, school activities continued as planned.

At Veterans Memorial Arena, roughly a half mile south of the Magellan tank farm, parents hustled their children out to their cars shortly after noon following a hockey game.

Todd Tooz of Dickinson, N.D., had just loaded his son's equipment into the back of the family SUV and was preparing to head home.

Tooz said arena officials urged parents and players to leave quickly after the game, and that an afternoon hockey game had been moved to another local arena.

Boyer said residents may observe soot on their vehicles, homes, or in the snow. He said the soot should be avoided by pets and young children, but should be diluted by precipitation.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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