Responding to Biodiesel Facilities and Fires
February 4, 2014
A huge fire and two explosions at a biodiesel plant in Mississippi last month reduced the entire plant to rubble and heat “was so high that firefighters could not get close enough to battle it.” The explosions knocked out power to the surrounding community. The fire was left to burn out and was finally extinguished 2 days later.
Biodiesel plants in operation around the country pose a life and safety threat to fire personnel and communities in the event of fires or accidents. Incidents last year in Alabama, Kansas, Arizona, and Missouri caused some evacuations and in some cases the plants were completely destroyed.
One cause for concern for fire departments is the variety of chemicals stored at these plants. In addition to the vegetable oil or animal fat being processed, methanol, isopropanol, and butanol are usually present on site since the oil must be mixed with an alcohol during production. Biodiesel itself is much less flammable than other fuels like kerosene, but the alcohols stored on site have low flashpoints.
There are several resources available for fire officials looking for information:
- Biodiesel Response Considerations Training Package – co-sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Biodiesel Board
- Biodiesel Production: The Code Official’s Perspective (PDF) – produced by the Connecticut State Fire Marshal’s Office
- Biofuels and Emerging Issues for First Responders (PDF) – produced by the Environmental Protection Agency