Just before noon Thursday, temperatures reached 60 degrees, there wasn't a cloud in the blue sky and a light wind breezed through the fields along Ohio 7 north of Marietta.
It was a beautiful day for two Charleston, W.Va., welders to lay a piece of 4- foot by 8-foot metal down on top of an oil tank.
It was also just the conditions needed to start a fire in the tank, seriously burning the younger of the two welders and sending the other one to the hospital as a precaution.
Photo submitted by Seth Deem of Marietta
An oil tank burns off Ohio 7 near Newport Thursday. One person was seriously burned and more than a dozen local fire departments fought the blaze for more than six hours.
The fire burned for about six hours before it was finally extinguished Thursday evening through the efforts of nearly 20 fire departments, some from as far as 40 to 50 miles away, as well as representatives of several area industrial facilities.
The exact cause of the fire wasn't known Thursday evening, but Bob Gerst, state manager with the Ohio Oil Gathering Corp., 34670 State Route 7, Newport, where the blaze took place, said the company believes a spark from the piece of metal might have caused the fire.
"There wasn't even an open flame (from the welders). But there are enough vapors (to start a fire from a spark) on a warm day like this," Gerst said.
Welding Inc., of Charleston, W.Va, which employed the two workers, had contracted with Ohio Oil Gathering Corp. for the job.
Welding Inc. employee Joshua Melton, 19, of Elkview, W.Va., was taken to Marietta Memorial Hospital before being flown by medical helicopter to Cabell-Huntington Hospital in West Virginia, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Gerst said the other worker was not seriously injured.
The incident unfolded Thursday after the Washington County Sheriff's Office received an emergency call from the oil company at 11:55 a.m., stating there was an injury at the site, about seven to 10 miles north of Marietta between Reno and Newport.
The Newport Volunteer Fire Department responded and by 12:07 p.m., the sheriff's office received another call, this time from the fire department, stating there was a fire that needed to be put out.
Fire departments and emergency personnel from throughout Washington County and beyond, both Ohio and West Virginia, responded to the scene.
Newport fire Chief Steve Foutty said a number of departments brought foam to the scene to help deal with the fire, which was burning oil in the tank.
"Oil will float on water and foam provides a membrane that will cut off the oxygen," he said.
Marietta fire Chief Tom Dempsey said the approximately 34,000-gallon tank was filled with about a foot of crude oil on the surface and 4 to 5 feet of brine, an oil byproduct, underneath, and that the oil and some wood beams holding up the roof of the tank were alight.
Later, Gerst said the tank was filled with brine only and that the oil was stored in a separate tank. Reno fire Chief Dan Ritchey said Thursday evening that there was oil in the burning tank.
Dempsey said because the wood beams were under the roof, it was difficult to fight the blaze.
"The wood beams were soaked with years and years of oil residue, so it's tough," he said.
Foutty said foam was sprayed into the tank from an aerial truck provided by Cytec's Willow Island facility.
Once the roof collapsed, it allowed firefighters to spray the foam directly on the blaze, Ritchey said.
"We had to wait for it to burn through, 'cause it wasn't stable enough to get up on it and cut through" like a house roof, he said.
Firefighters spent most of the afternoon spraying water on the edges of the tank, to keep it cool, and inside a hatch to the container to generate steam in order to smother the flames on the beams, Dempsey said.
Every 20 or 30 minutes, the fire would flare up again out of one of two holes in the structure's roof. Fire trucks left the scene just as regularly to refill their tanks with water.
Across the road from the fire, Nikki Sunderman, 25, of 101 Bells Run Road, Newport, sat on her porch, watching the scene as her children and those of a friend played in the mud. Sunderman said she got a phone call from a friend while she was taking a nap.
"My friend told me to come outside and see if everything was OK," she said. "We came out and saw the fire and heard the sirens. I wasn't very worried, though."
Sheriff's Capt. Jon Coppernoll said there have been other fires at these storage tanks over the years, but those were mostly caused by lightning.
Evan Bevins contributed.