Disaster averted in tanker fire near I-80
September 14, 2005
FERNLEY – Hundreds were evacuated from homes and businesses here Wednesday and traffic was diverted throughout Churchill and Lyon counties after a tanker truck leaking pressurized liquid natural gas caught fire near Interstate 80.
The fire was contained and traffic patterns returned to normal by 4:30 p.m. No injuries were reported.
A 10,000-gallon tanker in the parking lot of the Truck Inn truck stop near I-80 sprang a leak about 7:30 a.m. when a valve broke off, according to Associated Press reports. A spark from an unknown source started the blaze about 11 a.m.
A hazardous material team was trying to fix the leak when the fire started, said Martin Jensen, interim Lyon County fire marshall.
Due to the tanker’s pressurized contents, the risk of a massive explosion and shockwave was present, forcing evacuations and response from across the region, Jensen said.
“You have to use copious amounts of water,” Jensen said.
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The evacuation area stretched in a radius three-quarters of a mile to a mile from the fire, said Chief Jim Lemke of the North Lyon County Fire District.
“We’re waiting for it to, I guess you could say, explode, to a degree,” Lemke said at noon. “We’re not really clear, but we have the entire area evacuated. We’re not going to risk anybody’s life for a truck or a couple of buildings.”
Fernley resident Ebony Sinner, who lives in the mobile home park behind the Best Western Fernley Inn, was notified by a maintenance worker that her home was being evacuated early in the afternoon.
Sinner carried a three-week old kitten and was followed by a dog, her step-sister, a toddler and an infant in a stroller as they walked south in a field through brush and over the railroad tracks to the Out of Town Park.
“We don’t know where to go,” Sinner said.
An emergency shelter was set up by the Red Cross at Fernley High School.
By 3 p.m., the fire was nearly extinguished, said Capt. Jeff Page of the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department. Residents on the southern edge of the evacuation area were allowed to return to their homes.
In total, more than 100 people were evacuated to the shelter and roughly 500 gathered at the Out of Town Park, Page said.
I-80 was closed for nearly four hours before the threat of explosion subsided, according to Associated Press reports. Some westbound vehicles exited on Highway 95, 30 miles north of Fallon, and followed a detour south to Fallon and west on Highway 50A to Fernley.
Arterial routes in Fallon and Fernley were clogged with traffic in the early afternoon, much of it semi-trucks.
Public safety workers from across the region including Fallon, Wadsworth, Sparks, Reno and Silver Springs responded to the incident, setting up a command post at the North Lyon County Fire Protection District on Main Street.
Eleven firefighters, a fire truck, a tender and two command vehicles were sent by the Fallon/Churchill Volunteer Fire Department to Fernley, Chief Mike Parrish said. The extra hands would be essential in the event of an explosion, which would likely have spawned structure and brush fires.
“It was very necessary to have the stand-by,” Parrish said. “I thought it was handled very well.”