On Friday, August 5 the community of Upper Ojai was jolted by an explosion. An oil storage tank had ignited and exploded. Here is an eye witness account in her own words and photos from a local resident -
Photo - showing fire ball after tank had burned for about an hour.
At about 8:15 AM, my cell phone started going off with text messages telling of a petroleum explosion and fire in Upper Ojai near Summit School. I immediately drove to the area, about 2 miles from my house, and saw thick black smoke coming from one centralized location. The roads were crowded with highway patrol cars and fire trucks. I was following a small car that had driven out of Watts Road with a gentleman also looking to see how close the fire was to his house and the extremely dry brush surrounding us.
Photo shows smoke just after the first explosion that started the tank fire
By 8:45, I had settled on Koenigstein Road as the best location from which to take photos as I could see the tank that was on fire. I had my camera with a really strong lens, so I began taking photos. Soon the Ventura County Sheriff's helicopter arrived and began circling the fire. The smoke intensified and became blacker and thicker as time went by.
A man who told me he worked in the oil industry joined me. We both could see that the fire was contained in the tank, for which we were grateful. He commented that we were lucky there was no wind other than a light breeze blowing the smoke to the north. I said, "If there were a strong east wind, our community would go up in flames." We both moaned at the thought. I then asked him how a tank fire like this could get started. He said it could be just about anything, static electricity, gas leaking, a spark, a mistake. He said, "this stuff is very explosive as you can see."
A fire truck passed us heading up Koenigstein Road. It stopped at an oil access road just above where we stood and sat there awhile. Some residents of Koenigstein Road joined me. The mother of the family, Judy, is someone I am familiar with. We watched for a while as the thick black smoke continued to bellow. Her daughter told me that the initial explosion was so strong in their house, that it blew pictures off of the walls. She was pretty shaken.
The fire truck moved down the road, past us, and into a small road leading to the creek. We walked down to that road and followed it for a couple hundred feet. The tank was clearly visible and flames were shooting out of it in recurrent blasts. Judy's daughter told me that she had witnessed the oil company working on that very tank about six months ago when she was on a hike through the area. She said they were welding and working on it for a while. The flames intensified in size, shooting into the air 30-50 feet (or more).
By 9:45, the tank began to show signs of melting because the flames were spilling over the sides from time to time. Just after 10 AM, the fire trucks closest to the tank began to back up and move positions. The firemen nearest the tank moved back and began pulling hoses into position near the base of the tank. The helicopter that had been circling moved away. We were pretty sure that the tank was going to explode or melt away. We started to move away from our location because it looked increasingly frightening, however there was a fire truck positioned to our right protecting a house that was behind us, so I thought we were safe.
Suddenly, the whole tank imploded in a white hot rush of flames. The flames were larger and taller than any we had seen to this point. This last explosion of flames lasted about a minute and then it simply collapsed into a small amount of smoke. We couldn't see what the fire fighters had done, but it was clear they were in complete control of the situation and had been very well trained for this exact type of emergency. Whatever they had laid at the base of the tank extinguished the fire immediately. We had been told that the fire department was very worried that burning oil would escape when the tank melted and thus start a wildfire in the thick dry brush surrounding the tank area.
The preparation and response of the Ventura County Fire Department was astonishing to witness. No wonder they have such a stellar reputation. Thank you firefighters!
Carol Holly, Upper Ojai resident
Final Photo - showing the smoke after the fire was extinguished.