HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan 2) - A buildup of static electricity may be the cause of the fire at the commercial port tank farm in Piti that erupted when Supertyphoon Pongsona pounded the island Dec. 8.

The static electricity may have occurred inside the tank due to friction caused by extremely high winds rushing through the ventilation system, according to Guam Fire Department Capt. Darren Apiag.

For six days the fire burned, destroying three fuel tanks and leading officials to ban gasoline sales to the public, according to Pacific Daily News files. Roads were nearly deserted until officials lifted the restriction Dec. 15. On that day, long lines formed at service stations all over the island as residents waited, some for hours, to buy gasoline.

Apiag said the tank that first caught fire contained less than 15 percent of its total capacity of unleaded gasoline when the fire erupted. That situation, he explained, is considered to be unsafe in adverse weather conditions due to the high accumulation of gasoline vapors inside the tank.

He said according to Mobil officials, the tank was previously damaged in July, during typhoons Chata'an and Halong. The tank’s side walls were damaged, preventing the free-floating internal roof from moving no more than seven feet from the bottom of the tank.

"Therefore preventing the tank from being filled with product or water," Apiag said. "This is a safety practice during adverse weather conditions."

Based on the high volume and speed of air travel within the tank, it is likely unacceptable levels of static electricity may have built up and eventually ignited the fuel vapors within the tank, Apiag said. The explosion sent the tank's lid airborne, and it landed more than six hundred feet northeast of the tank, Apiag said.

Cecile Bamba Suda, public relations and government affairs manager for Mobil Oil Guam Inc., could not confirm whether or not the tank was repaired after the July typhoons.

"Mobil is currently assessing the preliminary report, as well as other information. As such, we believe it (is) inappropriate and premature to comment on any statements," Suda said.

Suda, however, said the company also has started a probe into the fire.

"Mobil has conducted an investigation into the fire, which will form part of a broader review of the impact of Supertyphoon Pongsona on all of Mobil operations on Guam," Suda said.

Suda said that investigation is ongoing and could not say when it will be completed.

Company officials have received a part of the fire department’s report, Suda said.

"We are currently reviewing the preliminary report," Suda said. "We appreciate the input of GFD and we will give it appropriate weight in our own investigation."

As the company's investigation continues, Mobil continues to conduct training on a regular basis to ensure the safety of its employees, Suda said.

"Safety procedures are in place at the terminal. Mobil is committed to safe, responsible operations," Suda said. "We will continue to work closely with GFD in relation to fire ... response."

She said it is too soon to tell what will be done with the burned tanks.

January 2, 2003

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