Investigation continues into tank explosion at Midwest Fuels - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Investigation continues into tank explosion at Midwest Fuels

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The cause and origin of the explosion at Midwest Industrial Asphalt is being described as a gauge malfunction within the tank where the explosion and ensuing fire occurred.

Steve Mathy, president of ALM Holding Co., which acts as the parent company to Midwest Industrial Asphalt said the operator was following protocol when the explosion happened.

"The operator checked the gauge inside the tank, which indicated there was two feet, two inches of product," he said. "He then proceeded to draw a sample, since the gauge indicated the sample port was submerged in the liquid."

When the operator attempted to draw a sample, nothing came out of the port. He then lit a torch to unclog the port, when vapors were ignited and traveled through the port into the tank where the explosion occurred.

Mathy said the gauge was not submerged within the asphalt and diesel fuel mixture inside the tank and was in fact exposed.

Midwest Industrial Asphalt said it has torn down the destroyed E-2 tank and plans to rebuild.

Mathy also said the company is looking into newer and more advanced gauges as well as alternative heating sources, such as steam, for any potential clogs in the sample port.The investigation into what caused a storage tank explosion at Midwest Industrial Asphalt continues almost one week after the incident.

The explosion last Wednesday happened around 7 a.m. at 615 Sumner Street and left one employee of the company injured.

The tank that exploded was holding 7,000 gallons of a diesel fuel and asphalt mixture.

According to Steve Mathy, president of ALM Holding Co., the parent company to Midwest Industrial Asphalt, the employee was treated at the hospital for minor burns and has since returned to work.

The La Crosse Fire Department along with Midwest Industrial Asphalt and its insurance company are conducting investigations into the cause of the fire.

"We're still in the process of interviewing people who were on site and conducting interviews," Mathy said. "It's a fairly complicated process and it's going to take some time."

Pending the investigation, the six other storage tanks in close proximity to the one that caught fire have been shut down.

"They're all out of service right now," Mathy said. "When the fire occurred we shut off the power to heat the tanks, and we've left it off since then."

The tank explosion could be heard for miles around La Crosse.

According to La Crosse Fire Department Division Chief Craig Snyder, the noise residents heard was actually the roof blowing off the top of the tank.

"One of the things we learned is the tank operated as it was designed to operate," Snyder said. "The top coming off the tank during an explosion is designed that way."

Division Chief Snyder said an explosion into the air can cause less damage to the surrounding areas.

"We want the explosion to go up in the air and not horizontally," he said. "If it had been a horizontal explosion we would have seen a lot more damage, greater injury, and more localized damage to the community like windows being broken and what not."

Both the La Crosse Fire Department and Midwest Industrial Asphalt said communication on the day of the fire was crucial to minimizing the impact on the environment and keeping residents safe.

"Everyone on site did their job," Snyder said. "Midwest Industrial Asphalt gave us information on the product in the tank, they had information on the amount of product in the tank, what was in the adjacent tanks, and overview layouts of the area."

The company said there was some run-off of the asphalt and diesel fuel mixture in the water used by firefighters, adding it was cleaned up and disposed of shortly after the fire was put out.

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