31 July 2009

Olinda Oil Field History: A 1920s Oil Tank Fire

Here is another illustration of the peril involved in the operations of the oil industry in its early years. In this instance, a caption at the bottom very simply states: "Brea -- Oil Tank Fire.

There actually appears to be, in the top photo, two separate fires, both in "open" oil tanks, dirt areas rimmed with earthen berms in which crude was stored. Being, of course, highly flammable, the crude was very susceptible to catching fire, as is the case in this image. The thick, tall plumes of black smoke indicate a fire still very much in full vigor and these fires were very difficult and dangerous to fight. A small gathering of onlookers stands in the lower right corner of the bottom image.

Even though the location is generally assigned to Brea, it seems, from the position of the hills in the background, that the location is actually the Olinda oil field and that they photographer stood off to the northwest of the site of the fire.

It is also noteworthy that there are a number of structures in very close proximity to the fires, including, presumably, several residences. There wasn't, unfortunately, any further identification marked on the image, which was printed onto a postcard, but not postally used or written on. The date is assumed to be the 1920s, judging from the kind of postcard used, otherwise there is no reliable way to provide an accurate date.

Still, this is a dramatic photo full of visual and historical interest and is courtesy of the Homestead Museum in the City of Industry.

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