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Investigators zero in on what caused West Fargo fuel tank fire

Cleanup gets underway at the fire scene at the Magellan tank farm in West Fargo on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.David Samson / The Forum

WEST FARGO – Investigators looking into the cause of a fire that burned on the outside of a fuel storage tank here are focusing on a failure of the piping and the mechanical pump system that pumps fuel out of the tank, West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller said Tuesday, Feb. 20.

Fuller said 1,200 barrels of diesel fuel leaked from the tank at the Magellan Midstream Partners facility, and investigators are trying to determine how it was ignited Sunday, Feb. 18.

The chief said Magellan is handling the initial investigation and working with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“It’s beyond the state level,” Fuller said.

A Magellan spokesman said Tuesday that the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Reported about 5:15 a.m. Sunday, the fire burned fiercely for about seven hours. A plume of black smoke swept over neighborhoods to the south and southwest before fire crews obtained enough firefighting foam and equipment to use it, as well as reinforced the dikes around the tank so they could quickly extinguish the flames.

“In the world of petroleum fires, it wasn’t very big at all. It might not get a full investigation,” Fuller said.

However, because the smoke from the fire was considered hazardous, residents in a 5-mile radius of the site, which encompasses a large swath of the Fargo-West Fargo area, were urged to shelter in place until the flames had been extinguished.

Environmental testing showed the air quality to be safe at the fire scene and in residential neighborhoods near the tank farm, Magellan officials said Monday, Feb. 19.

The 43,000-barrel storage tank contained about 30,000 barrels of diesel fuel when the fire started, and crews worked to remove fuel even as the fire burned. That operation continues, Fuller said.

West Fargo firefighters were assisted by crews from the Fargo Fire Department and its hazardous materials team; Hector International Airport; Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway; and the North Dakota National Guard. A law enforcement team from Grand Forks provided four drones, three of which were used to provide live video of the fire for emergency responders while the fourth was held in reserve, Fuller said.

Fuller said a Fargo-area drone team is being formed now, and the city of Fargo already has a drone in its possession. He said the multi-agency team will need to be trained and receive waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can operate.

Cleanup and soil remediation are continuing at the Magellan facility he said. Once the site is cleaned up, he said repairs can start on the storage tank, which appears badly scorched with the metal of the outer shell warped by heat in some spots.

Magellan resumed its pipeline service in and out of the facility and truck-loading operations Monday afternoon.