DETROIT (WWJ) – A much bigger disaster was averted overnight as an industrial fire burned in southwest Detroit.
Authorities say there were no injuries as a result of the blaze that broke out early Thursday morning in the refinery corridor along South Dix Street, near Miller Road and the Rouge River.
The fire itself was centered in a two-story maintenance garage. The complex also houses diesel fuel, oils and other petroleum products, forcing officials to declare a hazmat situation.
Detroit Fire Chief Gary Fisher said, if the fire had spread, the results could have been catastrophic. The complex is located next to the Sunoco main terminal, where tanker trucks fill up with gasoline for delivery to local stations.
“There’s always a danger in a place like this,” Fisher said. “I mean, when the diesel tank ruptured, the fuel was leaking out and could have surrounded…the whole building.”
“There was great concern…as you see there’s a whole tank field behind then; there’s tanker trucks all around the complex,” he said. “Just the fact that the Detroit Fire Department knocked this down without it becoming a major, major incident was a great relief.”
Fisher said the first few moments on the scene were intense.
“The wind can shift at any time, you know, the wind is a big factor in these big fires where, if the wind shifts and blows right on to them, they could heat up enough to breach and cause a major, major problem,” Fisher said.
Firefighters from several departments worked quickly to contain the fire to a single building, using gallons of a chemical foam to snuff out the flames.
Tony Fenton, who was scheduled to perform an air quality test at the Sunoco plant, said multiple safeguards are in place in case of fire
“They have isolation valves and everything. There’s foam underneath the loading racks and everything else, so if there was any sign of flame, it would drop tons of foam to prevent that from going anywhere,” said Tony Fenton, who was scheduled to perform an air quality test at the Sunoco plant. “But at the end of the day, you don’t want fire near these tanks with 40,000 gallons of fuel in them.”
Reporting live from the scene, WWJ’s Ron Dewey said it appears the inside of the building is completely gutted. Workers who were inside the building when the fire ignited managed to escape unharmed.
Officials say the cause of the fire remains under investigation. However, workers on the scene say one of their own might have accidentally sparked the blaze.
“From what I understand from the worker, he didn’t say exactly what happened but he claimed that something he was working on caught fire and then he called us,” Fisher said. “By the time we got here, it was fully involved.”
Employees on the scene told WWJ’s Mike Campbell the employee was wearing a head lamp, working away, when the light bulb suddenly broke. They think a spark from the bulb might have ignited the fire.