Several oil and natural gas museums educate visitors about an early fire-fighting technology. Especially in the Great Plains, frequent lightening strikes causes oil tank fires. At a safe distance, cannons were used to shoot holes in the base of burning tanks, allowing oil to drain into a holding pit until the fire was out.
A cloud of black smoke marks the site of an early oil tank fire being fought with oil field artillery as spectators look on. This rare photograph is from the collection of the Butler County History Center & Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado. The museum features a cannon exhibit, a large collection of antique drilling rigs — and a recreated boom town.
“Oil Fires, like Battles, are fought by Artillery” is the catchy phrase in an 1880s magazine article:
Lightning had struck the derrick, followed pipe connections into a nearby tank and ignited natural gas, which rises from freshly produced oil. Immediately following this blinding flash, the black smoke began to roll out.
“A Thunder-Storm in the Oil Country,” an October 22, 1884, article in Tech magazine, describes what happened next:
“Without stopping to watch the burning tank-house and derrick, we followed the oil to see where it would go. By some mischance the mouth of the ravine had been blocked up and the stream turned abruptly and spread out over the alluvial plain.
“Here, on a large smooth farm, were six iron storage tanks, about 80 feet in diameter and 25 feet high, each holding 30,000 barrels of oil. The burning oil spread with fearful rapidity over the level surface, and finally touched the sides of the nearest tank. Read the rest of this entry »