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Big Island firefighters extinguish propane tanker fire that burned for two days

Hawaii island firefighters extinguished a fire today on an overturned propane tanker truck that burned for two days following a fatal crash in Honomu.

Firefighters put the fire out at 5:20 a.m. and turned the scene over to police at 8 a.m. for an investigation into the traffic fatality, said fire Battalion Chief Matthias Kusch in a statement.

The fire started at about 2 p.m. Saturday when a Hawaii Gas truck was involved in a head-on crash with an SUV near the 13-mile marker on Highway 19.

Firefighters said a woman in her 30s from the SUV died at the scene and three other people from the SUV were taken to a hospital in various conditions. The driver of the gas truck was also taken to a hospital.

Police said officers received conflicting information about how the crash occurred and did not immediately release further information.

Over the weekend, firefighters shot more than a million gallons of water on the truck to prevent a catastrophic explosion.

Battalion Chief Kusch said the propane truck held about 1,750 gallons of liquid propane when it crashed, which is equivalent to 97,000 cubic feet of gas propane, or nearly enough to fill a 10-story building, 100 feet long and 100 feet wide.

“An enormous amount of potential energy,” Kusch said on Sunday. “It would be a pretty catastrophic explosion.”

While the closest homes were about 500 feet away, 70,000-volt power lines from Hamakua run through the area and authorities were concerned an explosion could cause major infrastructural damage, he said.

After the crash, the truck continued burning where gas was seeping out from a broken pipe. Firefighters sprayed water on the truck to keep it cool, but allowed the gas to seep out to alleviate the pressure. By 4:30 p.m. Sunday, firefighters had spent 26 hours spraying water on the tank to keep it cool, trying to prevent the tank from rupturing with pressurized liquid gas still inside and causing an explosion.

A 4-inch water hose snaking back through private yards and connected to a hydrant 2,000 feet away allowed firefighters to shoot 800 gallons of water a minute on the truck, Kusch said.

By 4:30 p.m. Sunday, that added up to 1.25 million gallons of water on the truck, nearly enough to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools.

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