SHELBYVILLE — With the help of 12 other fire departments, Shelbyville Fire Protection District battled a type of fire Tuesday for which it had no experience fighting.
That afternoon, lightning struck a large oil storage tank, containing about 3,000 gallons of crude oil southeast of Clarksburg on county road 600N, about a half mile east of county 2050E. The strike caused the top of the tank to be blown into the air, taking out a power line and barely missing a metal storage building before landing more than 100 yards to the east of the fire. The force of the landing plunged the tank three feet into the ground.
"It was a confirmed lightning strike — neighbor saw it," said Shelbyville fire engineer William "Perk" Wilson.
The department arrived on the scene about 2:20 p.m. and immediately began calling for help from other departments for water and foam chemical to smother the flames. More than 100 personnel and 25 pieces of equipment, including tankers, responded to the call. Local firefighters have not been trained for this kind of incident, but knew that the fire needed to be smothered because water alone would only spread the flames.
"In my 31 years as a firefighter, I've never seen anything like that," said Shelbyville Fire Chief Gary Lynch. "We've had small scale barrel training, but this was our first actual oil storage incident. It was pretty fast-paced."
Another concern was a nearby tank containing xylene, which is extremely flammable, and other tanks with inhibitors, which were not explosive but also were flammable.
The fire was contained to a 30-by-70-foot area thanks to an earthen dam around the storage tanks. It took a little more than four hours to get it under control.
"We had to use the water to keep those tanks cool," Lynch said.