A Tragic Example of How Being Unaware of Your Surroundings Can Take Your Life
By J. G. Martinez D.
I have been putting my stomach and guts together to write about this.
This family could have been my next door neighbors or someone whom I used to work with. It left a deep impression in my mind and perturbed me severely. Trying to find some proper words, is…somehow difficult.
Let´s go to explain what happened in that accident.
A family in their car was getting through deep water, under the rain. Nothing special about this. The entire city floods like there is no tomorrow because it´s on the East Coast of Venezuela, and prone to monsoon-like rains from June to October. Their car was a small sedan,13 inches wheels, just like city people have.
Warning: Graphic description of a deadly accident follows. Reader discretion is advised.
The water perhaps was not so deep. In the pictures the insiders sent me it was close to the center of the wheels. Not so abnormal. What it was abnormal was a huge pool with flammable liquid residues floating on top.
The official version is that “a bolt of lightning” struck nearby and set the entire pool on fire. 25 meters high flames, 100 meters long, 8 meters wide, with the car in the middle…and the family inside the car. They didn´t have a chance. A 3-year-old girl in the backseat, her mom, and her dad. All of them burned to death. Both parents left the car and fell down outside, completely burned down. The extension of the injuries was amazing. I don´t think they have survived but a few minutes. There was no skin left, and in that case, Mother Nature is wise. The organism goes into a shock stage, endorphins flood the bloodstream to relief pain, and massive fluid loss generates a merciful stroke before the person starts to feel the excruciating pain that results of all the nerves of the skin burned down. I hope their end was like that.
The flammable liquid was from a nearby tank farm in the immediate side of the road they were on.
Let´s analyze this tragedy.
You are in your car, passing by a road close to a tank farm, getting into a huge pool of rainwater. I don´t know if it was possible to detect flammable product floating ahead. Maybe they were with the windows up and the air conditioning, something we do a lot when driving, whether there is sun or rain. In the official version, an act of God happened, and this family was killed: Lightning was responsible for the ignition of the fuel floating. I can´t say if this is true. One of the version says that sparks falling from a failed wiring pole in that exact moment of the transit of this family was responsible. I believe all of this was possible. But to me, after having some training in oil industry accidents (and how to avoid them), and in failure analysis, the story can be a little bit different.
You see, the flammable liquid did not have to be there in the first place. The ineptitude of those running the tank farm (and yes, I express this to the world public, I don´t care) was the main cause for that family dying in such horrendous circumstances. Those flammable compounds were washed out by the heavy rain, and lack of maintenance of the drains around the tank farm, as I suppose they must be, generated the condition of a blanket of flammable product in a public road. And this, to me, is just as bad as a broken fuel pipe leaking flammable product to that road.
In our training, we learn about the triangle of fire. It´s a three-sided figure with one of the following elements in each vertex: oxygen, flammable product, and ignition point. Without some of these elements, you will not have fire. You can have a room full of flammable vapor, and an ignition point, say a hot red wire…but if there´s no oxygen present, nothing happens. And any combination of the vertex you want: lots of oxygen, and flammable product…nothing happens neither if there is no ignition point. Obviously, this triangle was completed. My guess is, the ignition point was the car: maybe the catalytic converter (it gets extremely hot when driving for a while) or some spark in the alternator ignited the fumes at just a few centimeters away while driving in the pool of mixture. They didn´t have a chance. Surrounded by flames, the tank explodes, and that´s the end. Flames everywhere, car destroyed…Jeez.
The result is a young family is no longer with us.
It will be a long time before I can forget that picture of the three of them in a happy family picture, and the first pictures of the charred remains that were left. Thank God, there were no pictures of that sweet little girl´s corpse. It would have been too much. I am a tough guy. I think I am. But the useless sacrifice of people…is something that is hard to accept, very hard, for me. I worked off my sorry backside the best part of my life, my most productive years, in order to provide the needed maintenance, repairs and everything needed to provide a safe operating environment to our oil industry´s facilities. I knew that work well done would make people sleep safe in their houses, in the towns nearby. It would provide gas for their kitchens, and revenues for our schools and universities. Our friends and neighbors who worked as operators would be safe. If the safety of your neighbor, whose kid plays with yours, whose wife is friend of your wife, and who kindly invites you a portion of roasted beef with grilled arepas and some beers in weekends, depends on the quality of your work, how is it possible that you don´t do it the most carefully possible way?
Seeing this kind of things…generates lots of emotional responses.
I wanted to detail this accident because it is, sadly, a proof of my dislike for gasoline as an everyday fuel. I know this is not too much of a choice for some. I understand perfectly that finding a good, honest mechanic is hard, and often diesel mechanics charge more for some work: different tools, different procedures, more expensive parts. Or perhaps finding a diesel mechanic with decent prices won´t be that hard. But I am sure of something. A diesel tank won´t explode as violently as they say that car tank exploded. And a diesel engine electric system, if well maintained should not generate sparks to the environment, so igniting a fumes cloud should not be as easy. I would appreciate your comments on this. We use diesel gensets to provide power for our equipment, locating them in the dam, with explosion-proof connections, and put over the tank dam (a wall of dirt around the tank to prevent spills), where there was good ventilation.
After the car entered the pool and caught fire for whatever reason it was to the floating blanket of flammable liquid, the flames made the tank explode, according to the investigation. It´s somehow…dubious that a result can be submitted so fast. I did my part in some cases, without any deaths involved, thank God. Of course, always filtered by those of the supervisory line above me, and my work usually tinkered carefully to make it look…innocuous for the members of the party that was responsible. Go figure. (Chernobyl, anyone?). I am in peace, though. I did my best and my ethical values remain intact.
I can assure you, in the immediate vicinity of a tank full of gasoline, jet fuel, or diesel, you can arrive with your car, as close as you need it, proving that such car HAS to be there. Well, I used to work in empty tanks, or full tanks, and both conditions are not as dangerous as a half tank, indeed. But such a car was usually diesel. If you needed some genset, it had to be diesel too, with a special device called a flame arrester, to diffuse the exhaust gasses, and impeding the ignition of possible flammable fumes that were in the surroundings. If the specialized personnel, trained in fire combat and responsible for the safety of facilities worth hundreds of millions of dollars trusted in diesel engines and their gas detectors in their belts…I can trust in diesel engines too.
Just think for a minute that you have a wildfire in front of you or something worse.
Some thugs have set up a barricade with burning tires 4 or 5 meters long, but low enough so you can jump over it in your 4×4 pickup.
This is going to be a much safer escape if your car works on diesel, trust me. Perhaps a chunk of burning tire adheres underneath your truck, but it won´t be an immediate hazard. It will burn something, but chances are that it won´t make you explode. The surprise factor is something that can save your life in an attack.
There are some other advantages of diesel over gasoline, but I won´t elaborate too much as maybe you know them already. But this particular example made me think about how important is to mitigate the risks we are surrounded. I hardly doubt that without a collapse such as that apocalypse my country is going through, this tragedy would have happened. Operators of our oil facilities were very careful about this sort of things. It´s more than evident that this is a fatal combination: lack of knowledge, negligence, lack of means to properly maintain the facilities: no budget, no equipment (this contaminated water needed to be suctioned with special equipment called a vacuum tank and disposed of in a water processing facility, to be reinjected to the ground after being taken again into environmental non-harmful specifications).
I hope this small, localized tragedy works for being conscious of how aware we need to be of our surroundings. Maybe detecting that pool of liquid was not possible, or maybe this poor guy decided that it was not dangerous. I am very careful when crossing puddles, or pools: rebar, glass bottles, potholes as deep as a person, you can find all kind of things underwater. It´s dirty and you can´t see what you are driving over, so any precaution is not enough.
Peace in heaven for this poor family.
Thank you for reading.
Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations: paypal.me/JoseM151
About the Author
About Jose Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations: paypal.me/JoseM151