Doraville, GA Tank Farm Explosion, Apr 1972

EXPLOSION ROCKS REFINERY TANK FARM KILLING MAN.

FLAMES SPREAD TO HOUSES.

Doraville, Ga. (AP) -- An explosion rocked a refinery-tank farm in the northeast Atlanta suburb today, killing one man and injuring at least four others.
Flames quickly spread to a small housing subdivision. Witnesses said one house exploded and showered the others with flames, setting them ablaze.
The area around the Triangle Refinery, is owned by Kerr-McGee Oil Co.
Debbie Arp, 15, who lives about 100 yards from the tanks, said the blast
"sounded like an airplane had fallen into the neighborhood."
"My mother came rushing in yelling at us, 'Get up, get up, it's on fire.' And then we were all running out of the house and into the street."
About 200 families were evacuated and DeKalb County Police Chief F. D. Hand said he had been advised that the City of Doraville had declared a state of emergency.
Witnesses said flames were shooting hundreds of feet into the air due to the blast.
Refinery foreman Kenneth Womack said the tank farm has seven tanks, each holding a million gallons and that three of them had burned. The tanks contained gasoline, kerosene and diesel oil and authorities feared others would explode.
Womack identified the dead man as EUGENE SMITH, about 30, a loading clerk.
The four persons known to be injured were taken to a hospital where two were reported in critical condition and the other two in fair condition.
Womack, said the explosion occurred when a gasoline tanker was being loaded.
The refinery is adjacent to the main line of Southern Railway and several men were stationed on the tracks to keep trains out of the area.
A large group of law enforcement officers was on the scene along with several units of the DeKalb Fire Department which was fighting the blaze.

Ironwood Daily Globe Michigan 1972-04-06

Comments

Doraville Tank Farm explosion 1972

I remember I was 15 I lived off of Peachtree Industrial across from the G M Plant. We felt the explosion and say the flames and black smoke. Wow I thought they would never put those flames out!!!

Remembering

Thanks for posting this. I am actually posting this reply on the 44th anniversary of the event.

I grew up in Doraville and was 2 years old when this occurred. I do not remember it, but my parents always told me about it. I had an uncle who was a firefighter in Cobb Co. whose station was called to respond to DeKalb F.D. putting out a "Signal 63", which is a code for need of assistance that we still us in DeKalb today. It is basically a "crap has hit the fan" signal and is not widely used unless the situation is extreme.

I remember my uncle, who has since passed away, saying the heat was so intense he remarked, "That's the closest to Hell I have ever been and I don't want to go back". I truly regret never documenting his experiences in regards to this tragedy.

I actually work for Doraville PD and have often, like you, used the incident to train new employees and to show them the respect they must have for the facilities and the operations they carry out. I still take them by Doral Ct and show them the three driveways where the homes used to be (before new houses were built) to show them the imagery of the seriousness of the incident.

I am in the process of creating a historical project to reflect on the incident and to document the personal stories to preserve history as many of the witnesses are aging. Please feel free to email me anytime as I would like to gather as many accounts as I can for the project, which may even be a book. my email is [email protected].

Jud, I would love to get with you and compare notes and material. I actually have 2 different videos of the incident myself. Thanks

In High School

Great article. I was 16 and started my first day of work at the Winn Dixie on Chamblee Tucker Road. We could see the smoke from what was then Henderson High School. My father worked worked for Colonial Pipeline at the time. I remember seeing the flames that night from the Winn Dixie parking lot.

Today

First, I would like to thank all for your comments to this article. Your personal stories mean a lot to me for reasons I will get into below.

I was barely two years old when this fire happened, and I didn’t live anywhere near it. So, I have absolutely no recollection of it.

I currently work at the facility that was Triangle Refineries. Today, it’s owned by CITGO Petroleum and Kinder Morgan, and operated by CITGO.

I can assure you that “The Fire”, as we refer to it, is not forgotten. And neither is the names James Horace Sloan and Eugene (Gene) Smith, the two fatalities of The Fire.

I’ve read the Fire Report signed by Chief, Dudley P. Martin. I’ve watched video of The Fire taken by what was obviously a First Responder. And, I have a co-worker that was hired to clean up the carnage and stayed on all these years as a full time employee who remembers the aftermath.

Dave’s comment / memory from below are spot on of what happened. A tank overfilled, gasoline vapor drifted downhill to the basement of one of the neighboring houses, the vapors were ignited by a water heater or furnace. The fire was allowed to burn out, and it took several days.

We talk about The Fire often, and I have incorporated it into my weekly driver training classes. Many of the drivers I train were born some 10 to 20 years after The Fire. And, in all likelihood, I will use some of the personal experiences I’ve read here in my training classes.

The facility is much safer today than it was forty-three years ago. It’s now manned 24 hour a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We check the product levels by hand on a regular basis, and we have two stage overfill alarms on each tank that are tested weekly. Unlike the past, we do not fill tanks to their fullest capacity.

Once again, I would like to thank all for your comments. I have learned a lot from you. And I would also like to extend my condolences to the families of Captain Jimmy Renfroe and Chief Dudley Martin for your loss. As the brother of a firefighter, I understand the passion of someone who dedicates their life to helping others.

Jimmy Renfroe

Dear Heather,
I was surfing tonight and came upon your post about the Triangle Refinery fire. I was very sad to learn that Jimmy passed away. My dad was Dudley Martin and he often spoke of Jimmy, always fondly, and considered him a friend until Dad's death in 2005. I remember talking to Jimmy one night for hours after Dad's death and being reminded of the times of my childhood in and around DeKalb fire stations.
May God bless you and your family and my family and I are eternally grateful for the service and sacrifices that Jimmy endured in the fire service. It will always be people like him upon which we can rely to protect and serve us.
Keith Martin

GM Plant

I was a Plant Engineer at the GM Assembly Plant a few miles away, south of I-285. We stood on the plant roof and could feel the heat of the fire. We set up a watch on the storm sewer that ran from that direction underneath the plant as we were concerned that fuel could leak from the tanks into the storm drain system and be carried directly under us. Fortunately, that did not happen. We had a 300,000 gallon LP gas tank farm on the plant property as well.

My Father-in-law Capt. Jimmy

My Father-in-law Capt. Jimmy Renfroe worked this fire. He was a Capt with Dekalb county. He just passed away on August 21st 2014. He talked about this fire many times.

PTSD

I lived on Doral Dr, about 3 blocks away from this. I was 10 years old. I woke up to what I thought was thunder but it was the explosion. It was 5:45 and right at dawn. My 6 yr old brother wakes up and yells. My grandmother was visiting and went into my brother's room and I heard her say it could not be thunder, the sky is clear and can see the moon and stars. I start hearing the sirens and there's a weird roaring sound and sucking feeling in the house. Then my dad came running and looked out of the other window in my brother's room and told us to get dressed quickly, gather the pets, and get in the car and told me not to look out the window.
But of course I had to look and what I saw took my breath away. I though it was the end of the world. Huge flames were shooting up over the pine trees and it was as beautiful as it was terrifying. I froze there transfixed and my grandmother had to pull me away. I then went into action, getting dressed, getting the dog on the the leash, bird in the cage in other hand and I was the first to the car ready to go. I stood in the driveway by the car, waiting and staring at the inferno, hearing the sound of the flames sucking the oxygen out of the air and feeling the heat. I began yelling it was getting closer and for everyone to hurry up.

My parents were delayed as they were helping our next door neighbor whose husband was out of town for the first time after the birth of their new baby. Police were on our street making sure everyone was evacuating and announcing it either with bullhorns or the loudspeakers on their cars, all the neighbors loading up and driving out. It was chaos. I remember the panic rising as I waited in the car staring at the roaring wall of flames.

Driving away to my dad's office, our initial refuge, and seeing the flames from a distance, my mother commented how much it looked like an atom bomb, the smoke plume having a mushroom shape. Apparently and thankfully, it as a windless day. We ended up staying at the new house of a former neighbor. I was obsessed with watching news coverage and looking at the glow coming from the fire at night.

The tanks, three of them, were left to burn out while fire fighters kept the buckling surrounding tanks cool enough to not explode. If any of the nearby tanks would've exploded our house and neighborhood would've been incinerated. It finally rained on Sunday night and knocked down the fire enough to return home.

I did not realize until today, during a panic/anxiety attack triggered by seeing a mushroom shaped black cloud from one of the fires in North County San Diego, that my anxiety issues and fight or flight reactions to stressful situations may be PTSD from that April morning in 1972. Hopefully now, I can finally stop the anxiety I've suffered with for over 40 years.

I was a student at Doraville

I was a student at Doraville Elementary (now a school bus parking lot), approx. 1 block from the explosion/fire. We had a few days off from school. A couple of homes on Dural Circle were turned to rubble. I remember watching the flames and smoke from a bluff alongside P'tree Industrial.

My home still has "Save our Pet - F.D. Hand" stickers in some windows....

Doraville Tank Fire

I lived several miles from the area during the fire. The story I remember was, gasoline vapors drifted downhill from the tank farm to the houses, the vapors were ignited by a water heater. It was not possible to control the flames and was allowed to burn itself out. It burned for several days. I was impressed by the courage of the firefighters spraying water on the neighboring tanks to keep them cool.