Shipping Container Explodes, Killing Firefighter

About an hour after a fire department began
fighting a blaze, this shipping container, exposed to the extreme heat of the burning
building, exploded. Tragically, a firefighter was killed. This
is what happened. By the time firefighters arrived at this log
home construction business, flames had engulfed the main production building. Next to the building was a shipping container
in which 16 gas-powered chainsaws, a gas-powered pressure washer, and other tools were kept. Nothing considered explosive, such as jerry
cans of fuel or propane tanks, was inside. Knowing that the container was vented and
that there were no bulk quantities of fuel, the incident commander didn’t consider the
container a threat. This opinion was shared by several other firefighters
and a company director on site. The information was conveyed to the rest of
the firefighters. The company director asked the firefighters
to do what they could to save the tools. Over the next hour water was directed almost
continuously at or near the container. One of the firefighters sprayed the container
from a ladder. He noted that there was no steam coming off
the container, only limited scorching of the wooden structure
around it, and that when touched with his wet glove the
container didn’t feel hot. Some of the roof trusses on the main building
were collapsing, so the firefighters pulled back. Shortly after, with nothing further falling, a fire captain and a firefighter moved towards
the building, spraying flare-ups near the shipping container. During the fire, heat had built up inside
the container, with some areas reaching at least 200 degrees Celsius. The gas tanks of two chainsaws and a plastic bottle containing about a litre of methanol melted. Gasoline vapour also escaped from the tanks
of the other equipment. Denser than air, the vapours settled along
the bottom, too far from the small vents of the container to be dissipated. Without warning, the container exploded. The fire captain, struck by a door, would
not survive his injuries. The firefighter was not injured. For weather resistance, shipping containers
are designed to be sealed, with only small vents providing limited ventilation. This design traps heat and, in this case,
flammable vapours. Being so close to a burning building elevated
the temperature to the point that it would only take about 3 litres of gasoline to form
enough vapour inside the container to be explosive. It’s believed either the vapours – mainly
gasoline and methanol – leaked out and were ignited by hot ashes or nearby flames or that the gasoline auto-ignited from the
extreme heat. Firefighters: When fighting fires near shipping containers, find out if there are flammable liquids inside and how much. Even a small amount can become deadly.

4 thoughts on “Shipping Container Explodes, Killing Firefighter

  1. This container fire tragedy hurts me deeply. There are very important fire behavior issues with compartment fires that are not being taught to the nozzleman. When ANYTHING is heated to its gasification temperature it becomes vaporized fuel that only needs the RIGHT AMOUNT of oxygen and an ignition to explode. The explosion can be slow (flames) or very, very fast (shock wave). Think about THIS!!! A container that is hot will have vapor in it and expanding pressure pushing it o…ut every vent. If the nozzleman squirts a little or a lot of water on the container, the container will contract and the hot gases inside of the container will contract and THAT will cause an immediate suction of air (with oxygen) to be drawn into the vaporized fuel in the container. The environment inside the compartment may pass through the explosive range of the fuel/oxygen mixture, and if there is an ignition it will explode. Do this experiment with a steam kettle on your stove, when the whistle blows, the expanding water vapor is venting just like the expanding vapor in a gasoline can or oil-well tank or even a closed garage with a boat or car inside. Leave the kettle on high burner until the whistles blows loudly, and then squirt just a small amount of water from a spray bottle onto the kettle, the whistle will immediately stop blowing which means the pressurized water vapor or gas has reversed direction and is now drawing in air and oxygen. BOOM!!! There is a lot more to know about compartment fires such as closed garage doors and storage building fires. I learned a lot about this from fighting oil-field and industrial fires. The nozzleman needs to know what he is doing.

  2. How many of the CAFS equipped departments have a piercing nozzle? Drive it through the skin of a heated container to prevent oxygen from entering and inject the pressurized CAFS foam into the container to keep the positive vapor pressure from reversing into a suction and drawing in oxygen. The CAFS foam bubbles contain air but the very small durable bubbles do not break and will not release the air inside of the bubbles. That is another reason CAFS is effective and other types of foam are not able to do this.

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