Moab, UT Gas Plant Explosion, Aug 1981


Moab, Utah (AP) -- A feeder line of propane gas that may have been hit by lightning exploded into flames, injuring 10 people, eight of them cricitally, authorities said today. The blast forced the evacuation of about 3,000 people for several hours.
The blast occurred late Friday at Doxol Storage Plant, about a mile north of Moab in southeastern Utah and adjacent to a campground. The fire continued to burn at the propane plant today, but was under control before dawn and was not expected to flare up, officials said.
The explosion, about two miles south of Arches National Park, also knocked out power to the city of about 4,800 residents and environs, affecting some 7,000 households, said Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. John Maecham estimated 3,000 people had been evacuated from the north end of town to several churches and schools. They began returning home before sump.
Authorities originally believed a lightning strike may have ignited a tank of propane, but Moab Police Capt. Daniel Ison said a main feeder line apparently ruptured and burned.
"It appears a lightning strike may have ruptured a main feeder line," he said. Electrical power flickered off momentarily, then came back on, he said. The explosion then occurred with "about a 250-foot fireball," he said.
Ison said crews had to shut valves feeding three, 20,000-30,000 gallon propane tanks before the fire could be contained. The ruptured line fed those tanks from two underground, 5 million-gallon caverns storing propane.
Maecham said Utah Power & Light Co., officials told him it would take about five hours to restore power after the fires were extinguished.
Taylor said the evacuations appeared orderly, with no signs of panic.
Spokesman Mark Sands said the burn unit of the University of Salt Lake City was told eight of the injured were in critical condition. He said six of the critically burned were at Allen Memorial Hospital at Moab and two were taken to a hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., where the three others also were taken.
John Dwan, director of community relations for University of Utah Medical Center, said three crews of doctors, nurses and therapists were sent to Moab.
Lynn Izatt, Grand County chief deputy, said the blast burned campers staying in the privately owned Slick Rock Campground. He said the injured were assisted by other campers.
Sheriff's deputies and Utah Highway Patrol officers sealed off U.S. Highway 163 next to the campground and storage plant.
The blast was the second major explosion to occur in Utah in two days. A blast early Thursday morning at an explosives manufacturing plant hear Grantsville 20 miles west of Salt Lake City killed five people, sent a 500-foot fireball into the sky and left a 150-foot deep crater.
Investigators are unsure what caused the Grantsville explosion.

Indiana Gazette Pennsylvania 1981-08-01