Long after an explosive night, this $0.00 gas station sign remains a reminder of drinking water dangers

Two years and seven months after a thunderbolt struck a utility pole near the Dixie Gas Depot in Fairfield, causing an explosion of underground fuel tanks at the fuel station and convenience store, the sign advertising gasoline prices still reads $0.00.

That’s because fuel no longer is for sale as a cleanup continues at the site located above the environmentally sensitive Great Miami Aquifer, which provides drinking water to Fairfield, Hamilton and other communities and companies.

On Aug. 3, 2015, the Dixie Gas Depot at the Fairfield intersection of Dixie Highway and Winton Road had an unearthly surprise when lightning struck during business hours. The explosion flung one of the three tanks — two containing gasoline, and one with diesel fuel — into the air.

INITIAL ARTICLE ABOUT THE EXPLOSION: Clean-up of fuel-tank explosion to involve multiple agencies

Tim McLelland, manager of the Hamilton-to-New-Baltimore-Area Ground Water Consortium, which protects local groundwater, said, “They’re cleaning up the groundwater as we speak, in fact. They’ve been working on that for at least the past six or eight months, from what I understand.”

An article about threats to the drinking water treatments will be published by this media outlet on Sunday.

Fairfield Fire Chief Don Bennett said the station explosion was so rare that only three such events are known to have happened. A fire chief in Nebraska contacted him to tell of one there. The explosion in Fairfield that threw a huge concrete patch into the air happened in a tank converted to diesel that had once held gasoline. After conversion to diesel, it retained the fuel-vapor-return system from the pump’s nozzle back to the underground tank, even though one no longer was needed.

Also, lightning had hit a utility pole that was surprisingly far away with such energy that the bottom of a transformer on the pole was blown off, and two woven-metal-cable guide wires to the ground were burned in half. The electricity was transmitted from there through the ground to the tanks.

The owner at Gas Depot this week, who witnessed the lightening strike and not wish to give his name, said he was glad the incident happened during business because people immediately understood the cause and realized nobody had caused the explosion on purpose. He said he didn’t know when — or if ever — he would begin selling gas.

McLelland said the station did nothing wrong and has been very good to work with in the aftermath.

“That was probably our most notable, most recent, large issue, and the groundwater was impacted with gasoline products and diesel-fuel products,” said McLelland, who also teaches about ways to avoid spills. “The gas station owner is currently addressing that “with long-term monitoring that’ll occur for several years, to make sure it doesn’t get to our drinking-water production wells.”

Less than 14 months after the gas station’s explosion, a 25-year-old Hamilton woman crashed a Chevrolet Impala into the store building. She later was charged with driving under the influence.

On Tuesday, the owner smiled and shook his head at the unlucky incidents at his store. He pointed to a hand-written sign on the store’s wall that said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”

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