Explosion during hydrogen tanker truck fire rattles California businesses, schools

Quimby Mug Bayou Florida Headshot
Updated Aug 30, 2018

A hydrogen tanker truck caused quite a stir this morning in El Cajon, Calif. after witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion while the truck was refueling a fuel tank at a manufacturing plant.

Heartland Fire & Rescue reported that no one was hurt when the truck’s emergency vent opened and began burning off hydrogen around 8 a.m. at Veridiam manufacturing. An explosion was reported just before the Linde fuel truck began venting its tank which held between 1,500 and 2,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen. No injuries were reported.

“While it was filling one of the smaller tanks at the business the vapors from the hydrogen truck ignited—kind of more of a flash if you will—and then at that point it started venting from the top,” Heartland Fire spokesman Mark Casey told HWT.

“With hazmat there they were able to find an isolator valve somewhere on the truck and shut off the venting,” Casey continued.

As a precaution, Verdiam, other neighboring businesses, three schools and nearby residents were all evacuated while fire and hazmat officials assessed the tanker truck, hosed it down and shut off the truck’s emergency vent.

The hydrogen flash fire, which sounded like a large explosion, shook nearby buildings and had some people nearby thinking that the truck had actually exploded, which Casey stressed did not happen. However, the truck was damaged by the fire, according to The San Diego Union Tribune.

Casey said he knew of no other recent hydrogen fires in the area. Besides El Cajon, Heartland Fire serves the cities of Lemon Grove and La Mesa. In February, hydrogen that was being hauled in cylinders by a truck in Diamond Bar, Calif. caught fire and led to the evacuations of nearby businesses and homes. An explosive flash-fire also occurred during the blaze. The gas was produced by Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. Diamond Bar is about 120 miles north of El Cajon and 30 miles east of Los Angeles.

On its website, Veridiam states that it’s “a leading build-to-print contract manufacturer with over 60 years of experience serving the medical, nuclear, aerospace, dental and industrial markets.” It’s unclear how hydrogen is used at the facility.

The Linde Group reports on its website that it’s a “world leading leading supplier of industrial, process and speciality gases and is one of the most profitable engineering companies.”

Linde did not respond to questions from Hard Working Trucks regarding their involvement in the auto industry, the amount of hydrogen lost at the Veridiam fire or if they’ve experienced similar incidents on any of their other hydrogen supply trucks. They did, however, release the following statements:

At approximately 8:10 am Pacific time, a hydrogen fire started in connection with a liquid hydrogen delivery at a Veridiam site in El Cajon, CA. Veridiam is a customer of Linde.  

As a precaution, the Veridiam facility, as well as surrounding companies and schools, were evacuated.  There have been no reported injuries or damages to property.  Emergency services were contacted, the fire was contained, and operations have resumed.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and Linde is cooperating fully with the authorities. 

Linde was blamed for a hydrogen fueling station fire in Northern California in 2012. Federal investigators said Linde, which built the station, used an incorrect valve which led to the blaze. The Emeryville fire led to several evacuations, which included nearby schools and Pixar Studios.