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Lightning sparks gas tank farm fire

A lightning-sparked fire left a gasoline storage tank a heap of melted metal and closed two interstates in Guilford County for at least six hours early Sunday. Two haz-mat crews from Raleigh helped with the response.

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Lightning sparked a fire at a gasoline tank farm in Guilford County shortly after midnight Saturday, shutting down two interstates for at least six hours and drawing in haz-mat crews from as far away as Raleigh, authorities said.

Lightning struck one storage tank at the Colonial Pipeline Tank Farm, at 411 Gallimore Dairy Road, near I-40 in Greensboro, according to Julia Jarema, spokeswoman for the state Division of Emergency Management. CBS News affiliate WFMY reported that the fire was brought under control around 5:15 a.m. and put out by 6:30 a.m.

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"This is not a catastrophic, cataclysmic event. It is simply a tank fire," Greensboro Assistant Fire Chief David Douglas told the Greensboro News-Record.

Four firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion, WFMY reported. No other injuries or evacuations were reported, and there was never any danger of an explosion.

Interstates 40 and 73 were closed between N.C. Highway 68 and Guilford College Road until shortly before 8 a.m. Some secondary area roads remained closed.

WFMY showed that the tank was left a heap of melted metal. It had contained 20,000 barrels, or about 840,000 gallons, of gasoline. Each tank has a capacity for about 50,000 barrels.

Firefighters let the blaze burn until there were about 10,000 barrels of gas left. Then, they drained the tank and attacked the fire with a foam chemical.

Crews also sprayed nearby tanks with water as a precaution. Those tanks have about 3,000 barrels, or 12,000 gallons, of gasoline.

Two haz-mat crews form Raleigh consisting of seven people responded and helped monitor fall-out, fumes and other potential sources of trouble. The crews are part of the North Carolina Regional Response Team.

“Greensboro got hit pretty hard this morning with the storms and because of that, they were spread pretty thin on their resources,” Raleigh Fire Department Capt. Ian Toms, coordinator of the haz-mat team, said.

As firefighters battled the flames and sprayed surrounding tanks to keep them cool, Toms’ team closely monitored air quality.

“It lets us know if the interstate could be opened, if it needs to stay closed for longer and it also helps us protect the responders themselves,” Toms said.

Emergency services officials said that fire crews had done regular training at the Colonial Pipelines farm two weeks ago.

"Obviously, our hope was that we would never get to put those things into play, but we knew we certainly had the potential, as Greensboro is home of the largest storage of refined petroleum products that we know of anywhere in the free world," Douglas said at a news conference.

A Colonial Pipelines representative said that the oil pipelines from the storage farm normally aren't run on the weekends, so there was minimal disruption to their operations.


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