Gas tank triggers truck fire in hotel parking lot

Published 1:26 am Wednesday, April 26, 2006

By By Adam Prestridge
An explosion Sunday night in the parking lot of the Days Inn forced an evacuation of guests and threatened the two-story structure.
According to Atmore Fire &Rescue Department chief Gerry McGhee, a 75-gallon gas tank in the bed of Valley Grand resident Randy Hinton's 1995 Dodge Dakota pickup truck caught fire in the parking lot of the hotel located at 1610 South Main Street. The gas tank exploded upon fire personnel's arrival.
"We don't know how the fire started," McGhee said. "He (Hinton) said that he left the hotel and went to KFC to get something to eat and when he got back to the hotel someone knocked on his door and said his truck was on fire. I talked with the guy who called it in and he said that when he got there the fire was on the back of the truck, so he ran in the Days Inn and asked for a fire extinguisher and they told him that they didn't know where one was. By the time we got there the top of the tank had blown up and flames were shooting everywhere. The truck was totally engulfed."
Atmore resident Ben Lindsey, who is co-owner of Old South Automotive in Atmore, called the fire in after discovering it in its early stages.
"I was down at our shop and walked out the door and saw some smoke, so I went over there and checked it out," the 21-year-old said. "It had just started when I got there. That's when I went inside and asked for a fire extinguisher and the girl told me she didn't know where it was. When I got back out there the fire was going pretty good. It had already spread to the gas tank and started burning the fuel."
Atmore Fire &Rescue personnel responded to the fire at 9:06 p.m. and quickly began dousing the fire with water to prevent the truck from exploding and to protect the Days Inn building.
"Days Inn didn't have much damage," McGhee said. "It was mostly contained to the truck. We did evacuate the south side of the hotel and kept water on it until we could get foam hooked up so we could put out the fire. We had to use 30 gallons of foam to put out the fire."
A total of 11 Atmore firefighters responded to the blaze, along with eight from Walnut Hill, Fla. Volunteer Fire Department. McGhee said even though the fire didn't spread to the Days Inn, he wanted to be sure enough personnel was on hand to contain it quickly if it did.
"I'd rather be on the safe side because you never know with a situation like that what you're going to run into," he said. "A lot of people get excited when they call in fires, so you don't always get all the information you need, so we like to send more engines and personnel just in case. You can always send a truck back, so that's the reason why I like to have enough help because you never know what kind of situations you're going to run in to. It could have been a big threat to the Days Inn."
McGhee said even though the fire took more than 20 minutes to contain, once the department's foam system was hooked up it didn't take long to "snuff out the fire."
It is unknown what caused the fire, but McGhee said he doesn't suspect arson.
"Something like that, with so much fire, it's difficult to determine how it started," he said. "The owner of the vehicle also had a barbecue grill on the back of it."
Three fire trucks and a rescue van from the Atmore Fire &Rescue Department responded to assist in control the fire. Atmore Police Department officers were also on hand for crowd control and to redirect traffic off Main Street. Kelley's Ambulance also had two units at the scene.
Since several gallons of gasoline were washed into the parking lot of Days Inn, McGhee contacted outgoing EMA director David Jennings to inform him of the incident.
"The run off from the gas went into a holding pond that Days Inn uses, so it didn't contaminate any of the water systems here in town," McGhee said. "We notified the EMA director and he said that he would notify the proper authorities to come out and look at holding pond to determine if it needed to be dug out or not."
McGhee said he is unaware if the holding pond has been inspected.

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