One of the most dangerous fires Memphis fire fighters ever battled occurred on September 5, 1973, at the Illinois Central Railroad’s Johnston Yards, at Weaver and Peebles Road. A fire alarm was received at 4 p.m. reporting an explosion and a cloud of “what smelled like” natural gas blowing across the street from the railroad yards. A few minutes later, the Gross Train Master for the railroad called to report that a truck offloading a damaged LP Gas tank car had a ruptured hose, and gas was leaking. Within minutes, the fire department and police responded to evacuate the area and block traffic, knowing that an explosion could occur at any moment. Fire companies set up heavy fog streams to dissipate the highly flammable gas vapors. By 4:30 p.m. the gas finally ignited into a violent explosion. The fire was upgraded to three alarms, and 28 fire companies fought to keep the blaze under control for another 30 minutes. Fire fighters desperately fought to cool the steel tank cars and prevent an explosion caused by boiling liquid expanding rapidly inside the tanks. At 5:00 p.m. another tank car ruptured, but it was nearly empty and the gas inside burned itself out before a major explosion occurred. Had the tank been full of gas, the incident could have turned into a tragedy, with heavy casualties and major property damage in the area.

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