No one was injured in a Saturday evening fire that destroyed one house and an outbuilding and severely damaged another house at Woodcliff.
Several people were evacuated as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze which had reached a propane tank that was releasing vapor — and then liquid — creating even more fire.
Cedar Bluffs Fire Chief Rob Benke said firefighters were called to the scene at about 6:30 p.m.
Benke said the fire started in a 10-by-20 shed outside of the house at S1081 at Woodcliff.
The blaze spread, setting the house at S1081 and a 500-gallon propane tank and a house at S1080, all on fire.
Saunders County Deputy George Wolsleben, who is the chief security officer at Woodcliff, said he began evacuating people from the area and that two powerlines went down in the road and were sparking. Vehicles were moved and he estimates that 20 area people were evacuated.
“We got people pushed back as far as we could,” Wolsleben said.
Benke said the Cedar Bluffs Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene with its ladder truck and brought in Fremont Rural and Mead volunteer fire departments as mutual aid.
About 30 firefighters were on the scene.
Benke said firefighters quickly worked to get water on the propane tank.
“We were getting it on there as fast as we could because it was relieving itself and it was on fire,” Benke said.
Benke said a propane tank has a relief valve. When a certain pressure is reached, vapor propane is released from the tank.
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In this case, the vapor propane was catching on fire as it was released.
“Then everything got too hot around there and the actual gauge for the propane tank melted out of it,” he said.
When gauge melted, it left a 1 ¼-inch opening on the tank from which straight, liquid propane was coming.
“Then we had fire everywhere,” Benke said. “It was a big, big fire, but all the departments, all the personnel did a great job of containing it to the two houses.”
Benke said the fire was under control in about a half-hour or 45 minutes, but firefighters had to stand by because of downed power lines until the Omaha Public Power District personnel could shut off the power.
The Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office has not determined a cause of the blaze at this time.
Benke said the house at S1080, which had just been remodeled, was destroyed. He estimated the damage at about $400,000.
The house at S1081 had fire, smoke and heat damage and the shed was destroyed. He estimated that damage at $50,000.
Benke added, however, that hundreds of people were lined up along the beaches—watching and recording the situation with their phones.
“They were across a waterway, probably 150-foot from where this was occurring,” Benke said. “I would not allow my family to be anywhere close to this happening if it were me. If the integrity of the tank would have given way to the heat, it could have injured several people. It was a very dangerous situation.”
He added something else.
“People with Smartphones need to hang back and let the firemen do their jobs,” Benke said. “Get to a safe area. It’s not somewhere you want to be.”