Firefighters spent seven hours hosing down 1,000 gallons of propane at the Ocean County Business Park on Route 9 on Friday evening, after a track loader from a tree service struck and severely damaged one of the complex’s four underground propane tanks, fire officials said.
More than 50 people were evacuated but there were no injuries in the incident, which happened just before 4:30 p.m. along a small access road at the back of the complex, officials said.
Assistant Chief Dave George of the Pleasant Plains Fire Company, the on-site commander, said the loader struck two of the four tanks and a chain link fence and was sitting on one when the fire company arrived. There was a significant leak from the most seriously damaged tank, George said, and propane had spread several hundred feet from the tank.
“It was a very dangerous situation,” he said. All four tanks were full, and the amount of fuel involved could have caused an explosion that “could have leveled that entire complex,” George said.
Propane – which is stored under pressure as a liquid but turns into a vapor when the pressure is released and the liquid mixes with air – is heavier than air, and as such tends to just collect at ground level, rather than dissipating readily.
Personnel from the propane gas company tried unsuccessfully to shut off the leak, but because the loader had damaged the tank’s fill and relief valve and because the loader was sitting on the tank, they could not. So the gas had to be allowed to slowly leak from the tank.
Chief Bob Sinnott of the Silverton Fire Company, which assisted Pleasant Plains, said the two companies poured water on the gas from Pleasant Plains’ ladder truck and from hand lines.
George said hosing the gas and the tanks down with water did two things. First, because propane is heavier than air, mixing in the water helps to dissipate the gas, he said. Second, it keeps the tanks cool and prevents the gas from igniting if there is a spark.
At about 10:40 p.m. enough propane had leaked from the damaged tank that the gas company was able to seal it, and the scene was declared safe by 11 p.m., George and Sinnott said.
Also assisting were the Toms River Police Department and Toms River Police EMS. East Dover Fire Company No. 4 was on standby for other calls, Sinnott said.