At a news conference this last Friday (8-3-07) in Spokane, WA Norm Brown, an FBI spokesman, confirmed that the Whitely Fuel Company fire was considered to be an arson caused fire, though the exact cause of the blaze has yet to be established. A $10,000 reward has been established by Northwest Insurance Council. No further details of the investigation were discussed at this news conference.
An earlier newspaper article claimed that there were holes in two of the tanks on site and that investigators appeared to have found a tool on site that could have made those holes. As noted in an earlier blog over on MySpace.com I noted that for a fire in a tank farm to have maximum destructive effect some of the tanks will have to be punctured to allow the spread of flammable liquids to carry the fire beyond the immediate area.
There has been no mention in any of the press reports about any possible terrorism link in this fire. Since there has been no public claim of responsibility by any radical groups for this incident, most reasonable people would move terrorism down their list of probable reasons for the arson attack. A claim of responsibility would have added a great deal to the confusion and fear that accompany any fire of this size.
Such a claim of responsibility would also have resulted in an increase in the level of security around other such fuel terminals around the country. If this was a trial run of a technique that was being developed to optimize this kind of attack, then a terrorist team might not want their normal publicity.
In any case this fire should still serve as a wake-up call for increased security at such fuel depots. While the fire in Spokane was destructive, it was limited to the immediate area of the depot and no one was seriously hurt or killed. If the two largest tanks on site had contained fuel, instead of being shut down for maintenance, this fire could have been a lot worse.