High winds Wednesday afternoon blew down an electrical line about eight miles northeast of Monmouth, sparking a field fire that in turn spread to two barns and caused a liquid propane (LP) tank to explode.
“It really was spectacular,” said Gerlaw firefighter Jim Wardell. “The explosion blew up a 1,000 gallon tank of LP…When the tank hit the dirt, it left a crater about four feet deep…You could tell what it would have done had it landed on a piece of equipment or a man.”
Gerlaw Fire Capt. Doug Earp said the explosion was “pretty impressive.”
“I was about 150 feet away when it let go,” Earp said. “The tank flew about 350 yards. I was really surprised by how much debris it threw. No one was injured. We were very, very lucky in that respect.”
The fire originated in a cornfield near the intersection of 245th Avenue and 150th Street. The resulting explosion severed high-voltage transmission lines that run along 245th Avenue, knocking out power to Alexis, North Henderson, and Viola. Firefighters, concerned that vehicles might collide due to the thick smoke covering the roadway, called in Warren County sheriff’s deputies to block off the road, Wardell said.
“There were four 1,000 gallon storage tanks inside two different barns; one was a big, two-story barn and the other a small lean-to barn,” Earp said. “Only one tank exploded, but the high-pressure relief valve released on another tank, causing it to blow off like a rocket, with flame shooting straight up in air.”
Field fires usually are relatively easy to contain, however, high winds that Wardell estimated were gusting up to 45 mph, prevented firefighters from gaining control.
“We couldn’t run fast enough to stay ahead of it,” Earp said. “Things were really hampered by the wind, and once the barn started on fire, there wasn’t going to be any putting it out. We were alerted about the LP tanks and got our personnel away from the building.”
Gerlaw firefighters were assisted at the scene by firefighters from Alexis, North Henderson, Monmouth, Cameron, and Little York. About 15 vehicles, including the Gerlaw Rescue unit, and nearly 50 firemen were on the scene, making this the largest mutual call in recent history, Earp noted.
Gerlaw firefighters were called to the fire at 3:52 p.m., and cleared the scene at 7:45 p.m. The original field fire traveled about half a mile, jumped the blacktop road twice and a gravel road once. The barns that burned were owned by Ed Adcock of rural Galesburg, Wardell said.
Several smaller field fires were sparked by the original fire and the ensuing explosion, but these fires were contained, Wardell said.
Loss of the two barns and equipment they contained is estimated at between $30,000 and $40,000. About 10,000 gallons of water were used from pumpers and brush trucks at the scene, with refilling done from tankers. The Gerlaw brush truck was refilled at least three times, Wardell said.
According to a press release issued this morning by the Monmouth Fire Department, one of its tanker trucks was requested by Gerlaw Fire Department at 4:37 p.m. Wednesday, to assist at the wildland fire.
“Prior to the tanker arriving, a large explosion took place, sending a fuel storage tank across the road and scattered debris throughout the surrounding field. Upon (tanker) 7 arriving, a second fuel storage tank began relieving itself, sending flames 20 feet into the air. Tanker 7 supported several brush trucks throughout the operation. 7 was cleared from the scene by command at 1758 (5:58 p.m.),” the release stated.
PHOTO SUBMITTED Approximately 15 vehicles and 45 to 50 area firefighters responded to a field fire Wednesday afternoon along 245th Avenue, northeast of Monmouth. The explosion of an LP tank caused significant damage and kept firefighters on the scene until nearly 8 p.m.