Asphalt tank fire did no harm to Gulfport's environment

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has determined that the Friday night explosion at Blacklidge Emulsions did no harm to the environment. However, fire investigators still aren't saying how the asphalt tank ignited.

The explosion on Reichold Road near Bernard Bayou rattled homes all over Gulfport. The city sent 19 different units to the Blacklidge Emulsions plant. As you probably know by now, their desperate efforts to contain the fire to just one tank paid off. The industrial fire never spread. And nobody got hurt.

From Lorraine Road, Friday night's fireball seemed to be eating up the vegetation surrounding that area. Pete McNair and Gulfport Station 6 arrived on the scene minutes after an explosion rocked the city. "It was exciting," the fireman said during his first shift since the fire.

"The tank was glowing red, and we were trying to keep everything cooled down."

The 27 Gulfport firefighters dispatched to Friday night's industrial mishap spent Monday critiquing their response. Chief Pat Sullivan gave everybody high marks.

"Our guys did an excellent job," the chief said, noting that the fire never spread, and nobody got hurt.

Back at the Blacklidge Emulsions plant, Gulfport fire investigators met with the state fire marshal and members of the Department of Environmental Quality. They spent Monday analyzing the charred tank to see if they could find a clue that determined how it ruptured.

There's actually a tank at the front of the property with a company message attached to it. It says, "Expect the unexpected."

It's a reminder to everyone that safety must be taken seriously at all times.

"The walk throughs that we do at the different plants to determine what's there, what's the layout, before the fire, those are very important," the chief said.

The 40,000 gallon tank that ignited Friday was behind a warehouse building on the Blacklidge property.

Despite being in an industrial section of Gulfport, the DEQ's Earl Ethridge never felt uneasy about the fire, or its impact on the area.

"It looked bad, but it really wasn't," said Ethridge. "You'll have an incident or two during the year, but mostly it's on any given daily basis, it's transportation accidents are our biggest worry."

Preparation for industrial accidents made it that much easier for Gulfport firemen to do what their trained to do.

"Just try to remember what you learned over the years and apply it," McNair said. "Take your time, go in, try to be safe, keep everybody else safe."

A statement from Blacklidge Emulsion released on Monday said, "We are currently cooperating fully with the investigations being conducted by the State Fire Marshal's office and Gulfport Fire Department's investigators.

"Over the past couple of years we have implemented extensive safety requirements at all of our plants through internal methods and the hiring of outside safety consulting companies.

"Again, we are very thankful that none of our employees or first responders were injured during this accident."