Amoco Refinery Fire 1983

Amoco Refinery Fire – Milford Haven

At around 10.48am on Tuesday 30th August 1983 a fire broke out in tank 11 at the Amoco Refinery at Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire on the West coast of Wales. This tank contained over 46,000 tonnes of North Sea crude oil.

The fire was first noticed by a works firefighter who alerted the Refinery Fire Brigade. They responded by sending its 105 foot Hydraulic Platform and it’s 4,500 gallon capacity Foam Tender. These were manned by 4 works firefighters. Within the next 3 hours there would be 150 firefighters manning 43 appliances. Before the stop message was sent there would be 70 appliances at the scene.

When the first refinery fire appliances arrived 4 lines of hose were got to work from hydrants along with a foam line from the Foam Tender to supply the refineries hydraulic platform which was got to work in the South East corner of the site, adjacent to the storage tanks bund wall. The boom on the HP was raised and foam was projected onto the oil tanks top which appeared to be now 50% engulfed in flame. The foam monitor on the HP was capable of supplying around 5,000 gallons per minute of foam onto the fire. Due to the fire not being seen to spread it was assumed that the foam had sealed the tank, but the tank was still well alight.

In the meantime a predetermined attendance consisting of 5 Pumps, an Emergency Tender and a Control Unit were mobilised. On arrival the message “Large Oil Tank alight” was sent and a “Make Pumps 10” message sent. Nine minutes later at 11.16am a Divisional officer arrived and immediately sent the message “Make Pumps 15” he then sent an informative message informing control that a tank containing 56,000 gallons of crude oil was well alight, and 10 jets were now in use. Shortly afterward he sent another message requesting that large scale foam mobilising need to be started and that other refineries be requested to start their “Mutual Aid Scheme”. Pumps were then made to 20 with 5 Hydraulic Platforms required.

At 13.31pm the Chief Officer took over and sent a message to say that a massive cooling operation was in force and that a foam attack wasn’t being used as they were waiting for other special appliances from other refineries to arrive before starting the attack. By 3.00pm 26 Pumps and 7 foam tankers were at the scene along with other special appliances and 150 firefighters.

The fire was estimated to be consuming around 300 tonnes of crude oil per hour, so it was decided to draw of oil from the affected tank and several of those adjacent. It took until midnight to empty the adjacent tanks. Once empty, foam was introduced to these tanks.

It was calculated that a stock of 45,000 gallons of foam would be needed on site before a safe attack on the fire could be commenced. This foam would arrive in various commercial tankers, but when it arrived firefighters were confronted by these tanker having many different and many non standard couplings. Firefighters on site fabricated adaptors from whatever they could find within the vast refinery, and eventually found means of preparing the discharge the foam into fire service tankers.

To fight the fire 40,000 gallons of a 6% foam mix per minute would need to be produced. A trial application of foam was attempted. This was achieved by using a roof monitor from an RAF Foam Tender that had arrived to assist fire fighting. This test proved successful, so senior officers decided to assemble every single bit of foam making equipment on the site ready for a full on attack on the flames. Much of this equipment would be ready should oil spill into the protective bund wall and reduce the risk of this oil catching fire.

After further discussion between senior fire officer and refinery experts it was decided to leave the attack for at least 4 hours due to the oil being drawn from the affected tank still being cool. Also it meant more of the contents could be salvaged. It also gave time for more supplies of bulk foam to arrive. Suddenly, and without any warning a “Boil Over” occurred and many thousands of tonnes of oil flowed into the bund wall and caught fire. Suddenly the fire was to cover an area of about 4 acres. Firefighters ran for cover, many receiving burns to their hands and faces, while many suffered other injuries in the attempt to escape the severe heat. Appliances near to the tanks caught fire and many others had paintwork blistered by the intense heat. Immediately senior officers ensured a roll call was taken, amazingly all persons were accounted for. Ambulances took many of the firefighters for treatment at local hospitals.

Firefighters now were faced with the problem of lack of fire fighting hose. The intense heat and fire by the tanks had melted much of the hose that had been laid in preparation for the attack, other hose had burst. Hose Layers with additional hose were ordered onto the incident. By now many of the original crews were exhausted and being relieved by fresh crews. These crews were warned of the potential of a further “Boil Over”. At 2.20am a further “Boil Over” occurred, firefighters were once more withdrawn, and much of the freshly laid out hose was damaged beyond use. Fires started to appear in the cladding of adjacent oil tanks. These tanks had foam applied to them and these fires were quickly extinguished. Fire crews worked quickly and efficiently, and within ½ hour the damaged hose was replaced and cooling jets replaced and got to work. These cooling jets were kept at work all night, and at 8.00am it was decided to commence a full attack on the fire due to the potential risk of a fire huge “Boil Over”

By now 67,000 gallons of bulk foam were available for use at the incident. The fist monitor was used to tackle the fire in the bund wall area in order to allow other foam monitors to be got to work as the area cooled. Soon 7 large foam monitors were at work from 3 fire fronts. By mid afternoon the fire appeared to be diminishing in its intensity, even though the blanket of foam was being broken down due to the intense heat. By early evening the fire was under control. The fire in the bund wall was now out and a thick blanket of foam covered the area. Only small pockets of fire remained within the tank.

The application of foam was ordered to continue through the night, and at around 2.00 am on 1st September the fire suddenly flared back up as the foam blanket was broken. Senior Officers fearful of any sudden further flare up decided to use a mobile crane from within the refinery. To this they lashed a foam monitor to the jib. This allowed further foam to be applied to cool the fire and maintain the blanket of foam. This final attack was successful and the fire was extinguished. The application of foam was now continued for several hours in order to ensure the oil and metal of the tanks was cool and no further risks of fire be possible.

At 22.30 hour the Chief Officer sent the stop message informing control that no further appliances or firefighters would be needed.

The incident required 44 pumps. 30 of these pumps came from Dyfed, the remainder from surrounding brigades 14 foam tenders were used along with 66 commercial tankers.