On Thursday, January 6, 1994, like most other days the first responders particularly Maverick County Sheriff’s Department, Eagle Pass Police Department and the Eagle Pass Fire Department started their day like any other day. Eight in the morning came, the guys from the all agencies were done with having a cup of coffee, saying “Hi” and getting briefed on what happened the night before. As the morning wore on, specifically 9 am, the Fire Department took the units out checked the radios, inspected various checklists that were necessary to be done in order to complete the morning routine. Finally, they all settled in to either watching some TV or going out and running errands. Noon came and like had been done many times before the Noon air horn was sounded. Everything seemed like a normal day and simple and routine until around 5:15pm.
The Maverick County Sheriff’s Department got a call of a fire in the Seco Mines area. As Deputy Humberto Torralba, arrived on the scene and assisted the driver of an 18-Wheeler get out of his vehicle. It appeared that his vehicle was the cause of the fire and they quickly left the area. While running, a sudden burst of hot air hit them as the gas valve exploded. Deputy Torralba closed down Del Rio Blvd to prevent traffic in the area and reported to dispatch an explosion at Eagle Oil.
The call for assistance immediately went out and all 28 active duty firemen along with 9 volunteers answered the call.
Unknown to any of the responders the situation or what was going on, they rushed in and saw a giant fireball. This fireball near a tanker truck of gas and one storage tank of gas. Immediately the call was made to evacuate a 1-mile radius area. People from Deer Run, Siesta Acres, Seco Mines and Thompson Road were evacuated from their homes. From one person’s estimate close to 3,000 people were evacuated and told to stand by as the EPFD (Eagle Pass Fire Department) battled the blaze.
However, there was a large amount of phone calls to all agencies coming in on what was happening and how to avoid the situation, get around the roads, along with reports of other fires and ambulance calls.
When word got out that help was needed, retired firemen came to assist. Some of those firemen, such as Tomas Ramirez, Manuel Espinosa and Gilbert Rodriguez to name a few, were sent out on calls with units and Firemen that came to aid from the City of Piedras Negras.
Reports indicated that a truck driver was refueling and forgot to disconnect a hose, as he took off, the hose ruptured and the fuel ignited.
For about an hour, brave firefighters from all three shifts, Co. A, B, and C along with all volunteers tried to cool the tanker truck and shut off the open valve which had ignited.
Other agencies like the Sheriff’s department assisted in evacuations and traffic control. While the Eagle Pass Police Department closed the Loop and Del Rio Blvd to prevent any innocent bystanders from being hurt.
It was until Manuel Mello III, drove the rig that the driver abandoned and moved it to a safe distance away, as it was in the direct flames from the tank where he was refueling. A heroic group of firefighters later decided that if the valve from the tank was not shut off, their efforts to cool the tank would be in vain. Raymond Flores, who’s bravery and valor was incalculable, along with a group of firefighters who kept the hose on him to cool him, shut the valve and essentially ended the fuel for the giant fireball ending the danger.
From there, the task was to cool off the tanks and the tanker truck with the hose and put out fires around the area created by the intense heat.
Days later when the State Inspector came, he had one solemn sentence for Fire Marshall Arturo Garcia, “If you all had not turned it off when you did, if even 15 min more would have gone by, this tank would have exploded.”
The last time a huge explosion of LPG gas had occurred since that day was in April 1975, when a propane tank exploded in the El Indio Hwy area. Unlike that day no injuries or deaths were reported in the Eagle Oil incident of 1994
To this day, I thank the heroic efforts of those brave men on that day.
TO: Guadalupe Cardona, Luciano Rodriguez, Arturo Garcia, Manuel Mello III, Raymond Flores, Humberto Torralba, Jesus Rodriguez, Juan Ramon Ruiz, Tomas Ramirez, Gilbert Rodriguez, Manuel Espinosa Sr., Rogelio De La Cruz, Juan Villarreal, Ruben Villarreal, Celestino Hernandez, Alvaro Rodriguez, Ricky Santos, Henry Rodrigues, Manuel Espinosa Jr., David Barrera and so many others whose name I may forget, Thank You!