For some time now, firefighters have warned of the challenge of extinguishing ethanol fires. Because ethanol cannot be piped due to its corrosive properties, large quantities are delivered by tanker truck or rail car. Pure ethanol can burn at a temperature as low as 55 degrees F (12.8 degrees C). Even when highly diluted in water ethanol remains flammable at higher temperatures. Since oceanic quantities of water would be required to extinguish a large ethanol fire, special retardant foams are generally used– but not readily available (= hours) to many fire departments. Even with that foam, a big ethanol fire can take days to extinguish; the holding tank often burns to the ground. (At least pure ethanol burns cleanly, leaving behind just water and carbon dioxide.) A NIMBY situation arose this spring in the heart of highly populated Alexandria, VA. (FYI, that’s communist country per First Brother wannabe Joe McCain.) Ethanol rail cars started offloading their cargo back in April 2008, but local fire departments didn’t get the appropriate flame-retardant foam for another month afterwards. There’s lots of finger pointing going on, with the city of Alexandria blaming rail company Norfolk Southern for slipping ethanol shipment in without notification.
Norfolk Southern claims that city officials didn’t communicate properly, and federal law allows railroads to move freight across state lines without much regard to local governments’ say in the matter. Needless to say, this matter has gone to court. So, what to do if you’re involved the unlikely event of an E85 fire? E85 is not as dangerous due to gasoline dilution, the flash point (temperature of combustion) being higher, but too should not be fought with water. Guidelines here suggest chemical extinguishers marked B, C, BC, or ABC.