A fire at an Owasso rock quarry caused a fuel tank at the site to explode, injuring three firefighters and sending two to the hospital.
The blaze drew a large emergency response to Tulsa Asphalt, located near 66th Street North and 129th East Avenue.
An ambulance arrived on scene after the explosion, which resulted in minor injuries for three firefighters. They were conscious and alert, an official said, and two were taken to a local hospital. Their injuries are not considered life-threatening.
The fire started Monday morning while employees were cleaning the tanks. The cause of the blaze is under investigation, according to Rogers County Emergency Management Director Scott Stokes.
One worker was treated for minor burns from the fire. He was treated on scene and is expected to be OK, Stokes said.
The fire was burning around seven tanks: one filled with oil, three with diesel fuel, three with burner fuel.
“None of them are highly explosive, but if you build up enough pressure in the tanks, it could cause an explosion,” Stokes said Monday as multiple fire crews were working defensively on the blaze to keep the tanks from heating up. An apparatus that shoots heavy foam also was brought in to help extinguish the fire.
Tulsa Asphalt leases a facility at the rock quarry and manufactures material for the road construction industry. A malfunctioning pop-off valve caused one of the tanks filled with burner fuel to explode about 11:35 a.m., spreading debris at least 100 yards in different directions. The flames continued to spread as the fuel was spilled.
“I think it caught everyone by surprise, with the flames being knocked down the way they were,” Stokes said.
At least seven agencies responded to the fire throughout the day, and dozens of firefighters were at the site during the tank explosion.
The three firefighters were thought to be injured by the repercussion of the blast.
“It’s an emotional deal because all these firefighters, they’re all local,” Stokes said. “They’re all friends, they’re all brothers and sisters. When they get injured, it kind of takes the focus away from the fire a little bit, so it’s hard to regain composure and get back on the fire.”
Stokes added that the closest fire hydrant was more than a mile away, and crews traveled back and forth as needed to replenish their water supply.
During the incident, that hydrant broke and tanker trucks had to use a hydrant about two miles away using a method Stokes described as a tanker shuttle to keep a constant stream of water.
“They did a great job. All the fire departments that were in it, that were working on that, they never lost water at all,” Stokes said.
A little after noon, firefighters were able to smother the flames in foam again, causing the blaze to slowly die down. The fire was officially extinguished around 3 p.m., Stokes said.
Stokes said the rock quarry resumed normal operations before he left the scene, but he expects the asphalt company will be shuttered for longer.
“I’d imagine they’ll be down for quite a while,” Stokes said.