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Port of Catoosa reopens after chemical fire causes evacuation

A Tulsa Fire Department engine idles after extinguishing a chemical fire at the Port of Catoosa. (Photo by Sam Gelfand/KTUL)
A Tulsa Fire Department engine idles after extinguishing a chemical fire at the Port of Catoosa. (Photo by Sam Gelfand/KTUL)
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The City of Catoosa braced for a potential disaster Wednesday morning when its port played host to a chemical fire.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Tulsa Port Authority still wasn’t sure what was inside the storage tank which caught fire. But Port Director David Yarbrough said the responsible thing was to presume the worst and err on the side of caution.

“Y’know, we prepare for it,” he said. “Hope you don’t have it happen. Every now and then, something goes not according to plan, and you just react, and you do what you gotta do.”

Concerned Catoosans flocked to Facebook in the morning, trying to get answers.

“Does anyone know about a chemical fire in the area?,” one person posted to a community group.

“Are they evacuating people around the port?,” another asked.

“Anyone know what that strange siren is in Catoosa right now?,” a woman inquired.

Yarbrough said that siren was the port’s alarm system.

“Shortly before nine o’clock a.m., we became aware of a fire at a storage tank at the north end of the port,” he recalled. “The type of tank that you would see chemicals or petroleum products stored in.”

With little to no information, the port authority prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“What we didn’t know was how high the smoke was,” Yarbrough explained. “Is it at ground level, is it high? I just knew it was moving that way.”

Yarbrough pointed towards town. Catoosa residents were told to shelter in place. The elementary school was evacuated and the roads leading to the port were blocked off. The port was cleared out, and the lines of people leaving stretched beyond the horizon.

“You’ve got visible flame and smoke, and you just need to clear the area,” Yarbrough said. “You don’t want to stand around and say, ‘Well, gosh, what is it? Is it dangerous? Is it going to react a certain way?’ You have to presume that bad things could happen.”

Even after the Tulsa Fire Department successfully battled the blaze, NewsChannel 8 wasn’t allowed to get closer than approximately 1,000 feet away from the storage tank. Officials said it was for safety reasons.

The next concern the Tulsa Port Authority will have to address is not fire, but pollution.

“There’s gonna be some remediation,” Yarbrough asserted. “What things are on the ground that we don’t want to get into the environment, or get into the water, or soak into the property? That’s already being addressed and being taken care of. That’s why the Tulsa Fire Department has an excellent hazardous response crew.”

Yarbrough acknowledged environmental tensions were high following the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, OH earlier this month. However, he said it was a necessary evil.

“We manufacture goods and chemicals that make life better,” he said. “And hopefully we learn to respect that things sometimes go bad and we have plans in place to address it when they do. But this is what it takes to have the products and the quality of life that we’ve become accustomed to.”

Fortunately, no one was injured, and the fire was extinguished within 90 minutes. The extent of the damage caused, though, is still unknown.


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