Saturday, July 22, 2017

Two people were injured when a gas tanker caught fire at Modern Gas Sales, causing a scorching blaze that melted two trucks in Piiston Twp., PA

PITTSTON TWP., PA — Two people were injured when a gas tanker caught fire this morning, causing a scorching blaze that melted two trucks as firefighters raced to prevent a massive explosion at a fuel distribution facility.

Firefighters were called to Modern Gas Sales at 2192 Glendale Road about 10:30 a.m. Friday to a report of an explosion neighbors reported seeing and feeling.

“I felt it through the ground,” said John Cottrell, 53, who lives down the street. “I saw the black smoke and the flames.”

Neighbor Carol Smicherko, 58, said she was outside talking in her driveway when she heard three explosions.

“Then we saw the black smoke immediately and then we heard (a hissing sound) real loud,” she said. “We just panicked. I went in the house, grabbed my car and grabbed my dogs and we ran down the street in the car. ... It was very terrifying.”

Township Assistant Fire Chief Tony Angelella Jr. said responding crews knew there was serious trouble as they made their way to the scene and saw thick, black smoke coming from the area.

Crews learned that two employees had been in a repair shop behind the facility working on a tanker truck holding about 3,500 gallons of liquid propane when the vehicle caught fire for reasons unknown, he said. As the vehicle burned, it began venting fuel that fed the blaze and led to two vehicles being destroyed, he said.

“It melted two of the trucks right down,” Angelella said. “It looks like a bomb went off right now.”

A third truck also began venting fuel during the blaze, but firefighters sprayed water on it and prevented it from melting down as well, he said. After that, they worked to keep everything around the tanker cool while the fire burned out, he said.

The explosions neighbors reported hearing were likely parts of the vehicles bursting, he said.

The two employees were taken to hospitals. One was first taken to Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton, then transported to Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Regional Burn Center with critical injuries, according to Wendy Wilson, Geisinger spokeswoman.

The other victim was taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Twp. and has been treated and released, she said.

The injured employees have not been identified.

Angelella said neighbors were not in any danger as of Friday afternoon.

“We did evacuate them because early on in the incident we did have potential for it to escalate and be a lot worse,” Angelella said. “It could have been a whole lot worse. The tanks did not explode. Their vents went off so the tanks stayed in place.”

State police and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials were on scene investigating the cause of the fire.


PITTSTON TWP., PA— Two workers were injured and two propane tanker trucks destroyed Friday morning in a fire at Modern Gas Sales Inc. that could have caused more damage if a tank exploded, a fire official said.

One of the men suffered burns and was flown by helicopter to Lehigh Valley Hospital near Allentown, said Pittston Township Assistant Fire Chief Tony Angelella Jr.

“The tanks did not explode. Their vents went off so the tanks stayed in place. It could have been a lot worse if a tank had exploded. We wouldn’t be standing in this area right now,” Angelella told reporters as he spoke to them across the road from the company’s headquarters on Route 502.

The fire reportedly started while one of the trucks was being worked on in a maintenance area, Angelella said. The cause is under investigation, and the names of the two injured men were not available. One of the men was treated and released from Geisinger Wyoming Valley in Plains Township, said Geisinger spokeswoman Wendy Wilson. The other man with more serious injuries was treated at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton before he was transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital, she said. His condition was not available.

“It appears to be a vehicle fire that became a propane fire,” Angelella said. “That’s what it looks like at this point. I don’t know if they were working on the actual tank itself.”

State police and a man wearing a vest marked OSHA (the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) were on scene. “They’re asking questions and investigating further,” Angelella said.

Fire departments and first responders from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties were dispatched to the facility at approximately 10:30 a.m. Residents reported explosions and smoke billowing from the property that sits along Spring Brook.

Dennis Fritz Jr., who lives about a quarter mile from the propane-delivery business, said the sound of an explosion drew him outside.

“I heard one big boom and I came out here,” he said as he sat on his porch with father Dennis Fritz Sr.

“You heard it hissing,” the elder Fritz said. “It sounded like a jet taking off from the airport.” The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport is a few miles from their home.

“And then there was another boom,” the elder Fritz went on.

“Then, there was another little boom,” the son added.

Another neighbor who lives much closer said her house was shaking. She also heard a hissing sound. “I don’t know whether it was air coming out of something,” she said. The woman who declined to provide her name said she called 911.

The combination of the location and the reports of an explosion caused some alarm for Angelella. It heightened as he approached and saw smoke in the distance. When firefighters arrived, they found two trucks ablaze and a third tanker about to go.

“There was a column of fire,” Angelella said.

Each of the trucks has a 3,500-gallon tank with a top vent that’s activated as internal pressure builds to a release point, Angelella explained.

The booms and explosions that residents heard were probably from the trucks’ tires and transmissions blowing up, Angelella said. The hissing was from the vents.

“Two of them burned right to the ground. The third (truck) began to vent so that our guys were able to get some water on it and stop the third one from going,” he said. “At that point, it’s a matter of keeping everything cool around it and just let the fire burn off.”

Reporters were not allowed onto the property, but Angelella described the aftermath of the blaze.

“It looks like a bomb went off right now. So there’s two trucks that are burned to the ground. There’s a little bit of damage to the building because of the heat and the tanks are blackened and burned up,” he said.

No firefighters were injured, Angelella said, as they battled flames in temperatures in the high 80s. Damage was contained to the vehicles.

There was an issue getting water to the scene due to the long distance firefighters had to run hoses from hydrants. Water tankers from surrounding departments were brought in as backups. Firefighters attacked the flames from the ground and an aerial ladder truck.

Angelella said neighbors in the immediate vicinity of the blaze were evacuated, and the roadway was shut down for several hours.