Carmel, Iowa — A semi trailer and its load of filled propane tanks was destroyed in a fire on Monday, July 13, 2015 near Carmel.
According to Rock Valley Fire Chief John Wallenburg, about 6:00 PM, the Rock Valley Fire Department was called to the report of semi fire about a half mile east of Eagle Avenue on B30, or about three and a half miles west of Carmel.
The chief says the fire department saw the fire from a long way away as they approached the scene. They found a semi with a trailer full of filled 20 and 40-pound propane tanks, similar to the ones used for grills and forklifts. He says by the time they got there, some of the over 200 tanks were already exploding. Wallenburg says the 40-pound aluminum tanks were the most dangerous, as they tended to shatter, sending shrapnel several feet away at high speed. The smaller 20-pound steel tanks either released their gas from the release valve or exploded by blowing the top off the tank.
He says they used lots of water to fight the fire, and they had to spray it from a distance. The chief says that in the most critical moments of the fire, they had to use their fire engine as a shield from the flying shrapnel. When it cooled down somewhat, he says, they had another challenge. The propane delivery truck had rollup doors on the sides, similar to a soft drink or beer delivery truck – and when those doors get hot, Wallenburg says they will not open. So they had to chop through the doors in some spots to get at the fire.
Wallenburg says no injuries were reported – in part because the driver, after trying in vain to unload the burning truck – evacuated the area when the propane tanks began to explode.
The fire department was assisted by the Sioux Center; Ireton; and Hudson, South Dakota fire departments, who provided manpower and tankers of water. The Rock Valley Ambulance crew also provided assistance on the scene.
He says the fire was caused by a burning tire – the rear inner tire on the driver’s side. He says he’s not sure how the tire caught fire, but he would suspect that perhaps it had run flat.
Chief Wallenburg reports that the entire trailer, owned by Tri-County Propane of Irene, South Dakota, and all the propane tanks were destroyed. He estimates that there had to have been at least $50,000 in damage.
He says they used 30,000 gallons of water to fight the fire, and crews were on scene for three hours.