Investigators to scour site of 2-alarm tanker fire in Central Phoenix; 2 victims still hospitalized

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3TV team coverage

Posted on April 22, 2014 at 7:19 AM

Updated Monday, Apr 28 at 6:43 PM

Map: 24th Street and Jefferson

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PHOENIX -- Investigators are expected Wednesday to head to the site of a huge oil-fed tanker fire that put two men in the hospital and blanketed Central Phoenix in smoke.

It happened Tuesday morning in the area of 24th and Jefferson streets just north of the airport.

A huge plume of thick black smoke poured off the fire and was visible for miles. That smoke caused Sky Harbor to close its two north runways and divert planes to the south runways.

The first 911 call came in at 7:04 a.m. Monday. The call was quickly escalated to a second-alarm assignment, which means more fire crews were sent to the scene.

Two people were burned, but few details were immediately available. Those victims were taken to the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa County Medical Center, according to Michelle Miller with the city of Phoenix.

Miller said a 23-year-old man suffered second- and third-degree burns to more than 50 percent of his body. A 45-year-old man suffered third-degree burns to his extremities, covering about 15 percent of his body, she said.

A spokesman with the Arizona Burn Center said both patients were covered with oil when they arrived, which means they had to be decontaminated. Both men are listed in critical condition.

Firefighters were pouring both water and foam on the fire. Several explosions, flames shooting high into the air, were visible from Chopper 3.

An hour after that call, the nearly 200 firefighters on the scene had made significant progress. The flames were under control and the smoke had turned gray and was dissipating.

Crews continued to pump water onto the fire, deal with hot spots and launch mop-up operations.

"They're surrounding and drowning it," Capt. Ben Santillan said, explaining that water was poured on at a rate of 4,000 gallons per minute. "The guys did a phenomenal job on scene."

By 9:30 a.m., only one hose was still laid out, ready in case of a flare-up.

The company where the fire was burning, Fuels, LLC at 203 S. 23rd St., recycles used oils, filters, antifreeze and related substances.

"Every component of your waste is recycled into fuel and raw materials for industrial use," reads the company's website.

According to Santillan, workers -- the two men who here burned -- were off-loading from a 70,000-gallon tank to a semi when the fire started. The men said they did not know what ignited it.

A company spokesman told 3TV the damage at the facility looks like it is contained to two trucks and a tank.

Some nearby businesses, hotels and one school -- R.L. Duffy High at 25th and Jefferson streets -- were evacuated as a precaution.

Several rooms at the Sterling Hotel, which is closest to the fire, were damaged, but none of the people staying there was injured.

No firefighters were hurt as they battled the monster blaze.

Although the airport closed its north runways, flights were still arriving and departing as scheduled, an airport spokeswoman said. Those north runways are back open.

The massive fire and the huge operation to contain it caused some Light Rail delays, as well as traffic delays on various Valley freeways. The fire did not directly impact the freeways, but drivers were likely distracted by the humongous smoke plume.

The affected Light Rail stations were reopened shortly before 9 a.m.

Investigators will try to determine exactly what happened during the tanker off-loading process to spark the fire.

In addition to its Phoenix facility, Fuels, LLC has a plant in Anthony, Texas. The company's main office is in Mesa.

3TV tried to talk to Fuels, LLC owner Keith Ryan, but he declined an interview and asked the crew to leave his property.

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