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Barrels explode in grass fire in Salt Lake City, hazmat crews investigate

(One firefighter detaching a fire hose from a hydrant after the flames were knocked down near 1700 South 900 West. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – Hazmat crews are looking into what was inside barrels that exploded due to a grass fire in Salt Lake City.  Firefighters said they feel lucky they were able to get in front of it before it became a serious problem near an industrial area. 

Crews were called to a fire on Pearl Street, 970 West, just south of 1700 South around 2:30 p.m.  Salt Lake Fire Captain Anthony Burton said they’re still trying to determine what caused it, but it looks like it started near the road.

“It appears to have started in the grass and then moved into an industrial area that had industrial barrels,” Burton said.

The barrels were reported as being empty, but Burton said they started exploding.  It’s possible nothing dangerous was inside, but Burton said sealed barrels can still explode in a hazmat fire when the liquid inside becomes a vapor.

Burton said, “Sometimes, even a mild or moderate amount of content can cause a barrel to vaporize and explode.”

Given the dry grass and the wind, Burton said they’re lucky they were able to get ahead of it so early.  Crews were able to keep it under five acres.

“It’s a red flag warning day and we’ve got quite a bit of wind, high heat and low humidity.  SO, it could have been catastrophic,” he said.  “The biggest thing on days like today and throughout this summer is to be cautious.  Search your vehicles for anything that might be dragging.  Don’t park in the high grasses that we have.”