Authorities evacuated six nearby businesses Thursday morning after a fire broke out near six large propane storage tanks at a Wheeling industrial park.
The fire, caused when cold weather led a rupture under one of the tanks, led to a dangerous situation at the site in the 400 block of Denniston Court, said Wheeling Fire Chief Keith MacIssac.
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"If the tanks would have exploded, it would have been very catastrophic," MacIssac said. "This is something we prepare for, we train for, and we're aware of this facility."
The fire occurred outside Penray Companies, a manufacturer of aerosol spray cans used in the automotive industry. Firefighters called to the scene at 8:02 a.m. began a water stream to keep the storage tanks cool, MacIssac said.
Because of the risk, officials evacuated six businesses and took extra safety precautions at Mark Twain Elementary School, moving children to a safe area away from windows, while firefighters worked to put out the flames. Their efforts initially were hampered because private snow removal contractors had buried nearby fire hydrants under snow, MacIsaac said.
"Crews had to dig out the hydrants in order for us to use them," MacIssac said.
Eventually, crews were able to access a supply line and shut off the fuel, putting out the fire. Students from Mark Twain and workers at the evacuated businesses were able to return to their buildings a short time later.
In all, about 45 firefighters from 11 departments responded to the scene.