Puente Aranda Fire

Photo Credit: Asobel
Photo Credit: Asobel

This article is reprinted here because it could not be found on the Associated Press archives website. I own no rights, and once it is published in the AP archives I will link to its new home from the book.

The Associated Press
December 14, 1982

Two burning storage tanks that held four million gallons of gasoline forced the evacuation of 8,000 people from nearby homes and a military base Tuesday, but the government said later the fire was under control.

President Belisario Betancur’s office issued a statement Tuesday night saying fire fighters had brought the huge blaze under control, and they were spraying other tanks to keep them cool while the fire burned itself out.

“Residents in the area of Puente Aranda can be calm because there is no need for alarm or concern for their personal safety,” the statement said. It added that a safety ditch surrounding the storage facility used by Esso and Texaco also would keep the fire from spreading.

The Modelo prison, which is about 500 feet from one of the burning tanks and holds some 3,000 inmates, was not evacuated. Earlier in the day, many prisoners screamed to be let out and military police were sent in to prevent a riot, radio stations reported. They said military police also were patrolling abandoned residential areas to prevent looting.

Betancur’s statement said there was sufficient gasoline for motorists, but long lines of cars formed at service stations and many stations closed when their supplies ran out.

Fred Jacobsen, director of public relations for Esso, said trained fire fighters were battling the blaze and they had “a plan of action … for using chemical spray to combat such a fire.”

“There is a possibility that the walls of the tank might give way a little, opening cracks and allowing the flaming material to fall upon the surrounding area,” he said. “However, this would not be serious since the problem could be attacked immediately.”

The fire, sending flames and smoke high over the city, will be allowed to burn itself out and could last through Wednesday, the minister of mines and energy, Carlos Martinez, said in a broadcast interview.

The cause of the fire was not known. The Bogota daily El Tiempo quoted army Gen. Bernardo Lema as saying sabotage by leftist guerrillas may have been the cause.

But officials said the blaze may have started when a passing army truck backfired, with a puff of flame from the exhaust touching off a fire at a tanker truck loading near one of the storage tanks that burst into flames. They said the tanker truck also burned.

Eight employees at the storage facility were injured when one of the Esso tanks burst into flames at 11 p.m. Monday, the Bogota Fire Department said in a news release.

The second tank, about 180 feet from the first tank and also belonging to Esso, burst into flames about an hour later. There are 10 tanks in all at the facility, each with 2 million gallons of gasoline. The area also includes about a dozen big tanks of propane gas.

About 3,000 soldiers and their their families at an army base adjacent to the tank farm were evacuated. Police forced an estimated 5,000 people in nearby houses to leave the area during the predawn hours.

The storage tanks are at Puente Aranda, about five miles east of El Dorado International airport and about three miles west of the downtown area of this city of 5 million people.

Read more about the fire in Spanish:

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