Columbia College and Propane Supplier Investigate Cause of Propane Tank Fire on Campus | News

Columbia College’s campus remained closed Monday as the Tuolumne County Fire Department, the college and its propane supplier investigated the cause of a fire Saturday involving a 1,200-gallon propane vapor tank that threatened to spread to an 18,000 gallon liquid propane gas tank near the multi-million dollar Oak Pavilion.

The fire was first detected around 4:30 p.m. Saturday by Austin Heimrich, a campus security patrolman, Glenn Cadwell, Columbia College’s campus security officer, said in a telephone interview Monday. Very few people were on campus the day before Super Bowl LVI aired on Sunday afternoon.

The two propane tanks are “a bit hidden in the woods” just east of the Oak Lodge, Cadwell said. The 50,000-square-foot athletics building seats 1,400 people, has classrooms and offices, cost $7.7 million to build, and opened 30 years ago in February 1992.

Heimrich called campus firefighters at Station 79 on Columbia College Drive, where a paid volunteer firefighter and university fire technology program student, Christopher Preston, was one of two firefighters who initially responded.

“We went to try and put it out,” Preston said in a phone interview Monday. “It had spread through vegetation, a slow rate of spread through pine needles. He didn’t climb any tree. No trees were involved.

Preston said he and his colleague got into a life support truck and arrived at the fire in less than 30 seconds from Station 79, which is located at the top of a hill.

They had no water in the truck, so they used pressurized water in water extinguishers to put out the flames in the pine needles and other vegetation around the burning propane tank, keeping their distances in case the flaming tank explodes. , Preston said.

Heimrich and the Station 79 crew had already called the Tuolumne County Fire Department for help, and three fire crews arrived.

“They used deck guns on the engines until they were extinguished,” Preston said, referring to guns mounted on fire trucks. “They were spraying the big tank next to it so the fire wouldn’t spread to the bigger tank. The smaller tank was on fire.

Campus staff were able to safely close a valve between the two tanks. No one was injured in the fire and no tanks exploded. The blaze was declared under control at 5:49 p.m. Saturday and authorities estimated that less than half an acre of vegetation had burned.

Kamps Propane, Columbia College’s propane supplier, did not respond to a message left Monday with its voicemail service.

Cadwell praised campus safety and the firefighters who were on duty and responding.

“I just want to point out that the campus security officer was very vigilant in getting this picked up,” Cadwell said. “It was critical. The campus is in a heavily forested area and we all know what happens with the fires. »

Cadwell added: “It was a very good team effort and I want to thank the firefighters for the quick response and just a good team effort to identify, respond and resolve this issue before it gets worse. They were able to contain the fire in a confined area.

There was no longer a fire danger at the college on Monday, Cadwell said, but the campus was closed because the school’s propane system that heats all of its buildings remained off while the investigation continued. .

Earlier Monday, Cadwell had to show Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Henry Yong what happened.

“I’m very grateful that there were no injuries of any kind,” Yong said Monday afternoon in a phone interview. “I want to thank security, fire and emergency personnel for responding so quickly and we hope we can reopen tomorrow.”

Online classes and remote services for Columbia College students were scheduled to continue Monday. College employees have been asked to work remotely. A Valentine’s Day event called Cupid’s Bash has been postponed.

College President GH Javaheripour said later Monday that all campus facilities except dormitories with a separate fuel source and heating system were locked down on Monday “to investigate the cause of the fire and also for Yosemite CCD personnel to repair the tank.

The college was not closed, Javaheripour said, but would remain in remote operation on Tuesday “to complete facility heating duties.”

The Yosemite Community College district has risk management coverage and most, if not all, repair costs will be covered by insurance, Javaheripour said.

“We haven’t heard of the cause of the fire yet,” Javaheripour said. “Upon initial inspection, the fire was limited to the cage area, and did not spread to cause property damage to any facilities other than the immediate space around the tank.”

Cadwell said Columbia College has campus security patrols on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Propane tanks east of the Oak Building are used only to provide heat to campus buildings.

Kamps Propane had already sent personnel to assess the fire’s aftermath and damage, Cadwell said Monday. Repairs to the damaged Kamps equipment were due to be completed by Monday afternoon.

“Students and campus staff will be notified when the campus is ready for everyone to return,” Cadwell said.

Mathew Gilbert, Fire Prevention and Law Enforcement Battalion Chief for Cal Fire’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, said Monday afternoon of the cause of the fire: “It has been determined that it was an equipment malfunction. This is all the information I have at the moment. »

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