Explosion threat forces evacuation

Officials evacuated nearby residents and closed a portion of Talbott Road Thursday, the seventh day of the propane tank fire at Sisolack’s Truck Repair in Barbour County.

Talbott Road was closed to all auto and foot traffic by the Belington Fire Department Thursday afternoon. The road was blocked off from Deerbrook Estates to the Talbott Community Building.

Belington Fire Department Chief Phil Hart said officials urged people living in the residence directly across from Sisolack’s to evacuate their home. He said they self-evacuated and have relocated themselves to a separate residence for the time being.

“Our main concern is safety,” he said.

An emergency mobile camper also has been moved further away from Sisolack’s Truck Service to ensure the safety of emergency personnel at the site.

Hart said crews from the Belington Fire Department and Belington EMS have remained on the scene all day and night since the fire began about 8 a.m. March 8, working with water hoses to keep a propane truck in the building cool. The propane escaping from the truck was burning, but firefighters did not want to extinguish the blaze for safety reasons. Once all the propane leaked out the fire would extinguish itself, officials said.

A strong propane odor emanating from the Southern States propane truck tank worried firefighters and Talbott Road residents Wednesday evening.

“The odor was a concern last night,” Belington Fire Chief Phil Hart said Thursday. “We were concerned of the possibility of another leak, but found it was just the odorant added to the propane, and it was not burning.”

Hart said the freezing temperatures also hampered their efforts on Wednesday.

“The water flow valves on the hydrants were frozen,” Hart said. “We had to keep torching the valves as they refroze.”

Another concern Hart noted was the integrity of the propane truck tank.

“This tank and its plumbing have been burning for seven days,” Hart said. “They have to be getting weak due to burning for seven days.” Hart said if the plumbing fails then the fuel would burn quickly and aggressively.

Questions to Southern States Cooperative Fleet Manager Floyd Bush Thursday revealed very little information. When asked if Southern States Cooperative has a protocol for this type of a situation, Bush said everything is in the hands of the fire department officials.

“We have turned this over to the firefighters,” Bush said. “We are following their directions. They are putting water on the propane tank and letting the lp gas burn. I already thought it (the fire) would have burned out.”

Bush referred The Inter-Mountain to contact another Southern States Cooperative representative, Jeff Kinney, because Kinney has been on the scene of the Barbour County fire. Messages were left on both Kinney’s cell phone and business phone, but calls were not returned by press time.

Hart said state Fire Marshall Josh Amos was at the fire Tuesday on a fact-finding mission, but noted Amos cannot begin an investigation until the fire is out.

“This has been an all-volunteer effort, and the toll on our workers and equipment has been large,” Hart said. “Manpower is limited, especially during the day because most of our volunteers have day jobs. We have utilized what resources we have.”

Hart said a command post at the fire has been established in a camping trailer.

“We have a computer, fax, copier and a phone in the trailer,” Hart said. “It helps to be able to use modern-day technology at the scene.”

Water used on the fire is still being recycled, Hart said.

Personnel from the Belington Fire Department, Barbour County EMS, Barbour County Office of Emergency Management, West Virginia Department of Highways, Barbour County Courthouse, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and West Virginia State Police are all working together to make sure that the fire is controlled and residents remain safe from danger, Hart said.