Firefighters took a bold step today to drain a burning propane tanker and prevent the rail car from blowing up as thousands of people were forced from their homes for a second day in the Sacramento suburb of Lincoln, California. Officials are trying to head off a potentially catastrophic failure of the 29,000-gallon tank. A buildup of heat could lead to an explosion that the fire chief compared to a "small thermal nuclear bomb" that produces a fireball several hundred yards wide. An explosion also could throw metal shards up to a mile away; officials ordered mandatory evacuations within a one-mile radius.
Between 4,000 and 5,000 homes in the city of 40,000 people were evacuated, and more than 6,000 students were missing their first days of classes, with district schools ordered closed until Monday. Fire officials initially said the blaze could continue for 21 days, but the chief determined that scenario was unacceptable, and said firefighters now hope to have the blaze under control within 24 to 48 hours. He said firefighters have been successful in keeping the tanker cool since it caught fire yesterday, but he worried that it was showing signs of melting. Click for more on the drainage procedure, known as a "hot tap."