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Published: July 20, 2009 07:07 pm     

NORTH TONAWANDA: Blowtorch sparks fuel tank fire

Eight fire companies called to blaze on River Road

By Neale Gulley
Niagara Gazette

Eight fire companies fought back flames Monday morning on River Road after crews dismantling an abandoned 50-foot-tall fuel tank sparked a fire with a blowtorch.

About 50 firefighters kept the blaze confined to the huge but mostly empty storage tank after hours of using a flame retarding foam on the structure, which was once used as a fuel distribution point for a long-defunct business at 5335 River Road.

“We have a five million gallon tank that is being dismantled and the demolition team was attempting to cut it ... at some point the fire started,” Grand Island Fire Chief Greg Butcher said.

About 4,500 gallons of “petroleum sludge” was barely enough to register in the massive above-ground container, he said, and a “floating lid” inside the structure indicated it was empty by industry standards.

The former business, once variously attached to the name Kinetic Labs, Elmer Goetz Oil Company and Frontier Oil, hasn’t been in operation for possibly the past 30 years. The industrial hulk is currently foreclosed and the property of Erie County.

Fire officials tentatively deemed the blaze extinguished before 1 p.m., though cars had to wait their turn to creep past the scene in just one direction at a time throughout the early afternoon.

Butcher said the job was treated as a hazardous materials incident (involving a special unit adding to scores of fire engines and police cars parked along the highway’s eastbound lane) but that firefighting operations were standard as for any other working fire.

“We’re treating this as a haz-mat incident but we’re fighting it as we would fight any other fire,” Butcher said.