La Crosse Fire Dept. releases cause of explosion in La Crosse

Tank at Midwest Industrial Asphalt exploded on Nov. 19
La Crosse Fire Dept. releases cause of explosion in La Crosse

The La Crosse Fire Department released the cause Thursday afternoon of the explosion at Midwest Industrial Asphalt, near Copeland Park in La Crosse on November 19.

La Crosse Fire Division Chief Craig Snyder said a heat torch ignited flammable vapors coming from the test valve and caused the explosion. He said the origin of the fire was determined to be at the base of the asphalt tank, the test port valve.

At about 7 a.m. on November 19, an explosion injured a worker at Midwest Industrial Asphalt.  A Shelter in Place order was issued to keep the community safe as firefighters worked to contain the fire.

La Crosse Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland said crews were able to stop the runoff of chemicals and contain it to one tank. He said the tank had a mixture of 70-percent asphalt and 30-percent diesel. With 26 firefighters, 12 responding units and three supporting agencies, it took crews about an hour and a half to get the explosion under control.

Steve Mathy, the president of Midwest Industrial Asphalt, said the employee that was injured was following protocol at the time of the explosion. The worker was pulling a sample of the asphalt from the tank, but nothing came out of the test port, which Mathy said indicated that the sample port was likely plugged with hardened asphalt.

The worker lit his hand-held torch and ignited vapors. Mathy said the vapors went through the port and ignited the vapors inside the tank causing the explosion. The gauge that shows the amount of product in the tank was off by about 2,000 gallons. That exposed the sample port.

The tanks at Midwest Industrial Asphalt are out of currently out of service, but Mathy said they would be at this time of year despite the explosion. The exploded tank has been demolished. The company is making preparations to rebuild and are looking at potential upgrades for gauges, valves and test ports. Part of the upgrades they’ll look at is an alternative heat source to the hand-held torches, such as steam heat.

Moving forward, Mathy said they will review all procedures and include all employees in it. The likelihood of anything like this happening again is “real low,” according to Mathy. 

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