Underground explosion

This photo shows a buckled concrete slab, after an underground biodiesel fuel tank exploded Wednesday afternoon at the Flying J Travel Center in North East. The underground tank explosion caused no injuries, but it did result in an estimated $300,000 in damage. 

NORTH EAST — Investigators are blaming a malfunctioning heater for causing an underground biodiesel storage tank at a North East travel center to explode, resulting in an estimated $300,000 damage, according to the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Employees at the Flying J Travel Center in the unit block of Center Drive, off Route 272, called 911 at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, after hearing a noise and seeing smoke rising from the surface concrete near the fuel islands, fire officials reported.

The blast did not cause a fire, nor did it injure anyone, said Sr. Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver J. Alkire, an agency detective and spokesman.

Approximately 18 firefighters with area volunteer fire companies responded to the scene, where they spent about two hours working to ensure that the area was safe, fire officials said. North East Volunteer Fire Co., which served as the on-scene command unit, contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to report the fuel-related explosion, fire officials added.

MDE officials, in turn, contacted the fire marshal at approximately 9 p.m. Wednesday, according to Alkire.

“There was no fire, but it actually buckled the concrete slab above the underground tank,” Alkire commented.

The tank is approximately three below ground and, at the time of the explosion, it was holding about 8,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel, Alkire explained.

MOSFM investigators determined that the explosion occurred inside the underground biodiesel storage tank on the sprawling, commercial property, which is marked by numerous gasoline and diesel fuel pumps, a Flying J convenience store and Denny’s restaurant, fire officials said.

Detectives listed “accidental” as the cause, after concluding that “an unknown malfunction of the product heater located within the storage tank” triggered the explosion, fire officials added.

“Because the tank is underground, it has a heater inside of it to prevent the biodiesel fuel from freezing over. The heater malfunctioned and it ignited the fumes,” Alkire outlined.

The underground explosion caused an estimated $300,000 in damage, he reported.

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