Fire on Liberty Island Raised Specter of a 'Catastrophic' Explosion

Some of the emergency personnel who responded to a fire on Liberty Island, at a staging area at The Battery, near Pier A. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib 

Aug. 27, 2018

A fire on Liberty Island late Monday morning raised the specter of a “catastrophic” explosion and triggered a heavy response, including five fireboats, from the FDNY.

The fire, about 200 feet from the base of the statue, was first reported to be inside the monument, but still “too close,” said Roger Sakowich, the FDNY’s Manhattan borough commander in charge of the response operation. Thirty-five hundred people were evacuated from the island, which remained closed until about 2 p.m.

Sakowich said that propane in a 100-pound tank had ignited and a second tank had been knocked over and was leaking. A third tank was nearby. “You’re dealing with 300 pounds of propane,” Sakowich told reporters. “It was a very dangerous situation.”

“One of the tanks exploding would have been catastrophic,” he added, “metal would have been flying for quite some distance and there’s a tremendous ball of fire when propane does explode like that.”

While the FDNY has a protocol for responding to fire emergencies on Liberty Island and Ellis Island, Sakowich said he could not remember another time when five fire boats had been called to a scene.

It took about two hours to bring the fire under control, he said.

In the meantime, tourists crowded into Castle Clinton to get word of the resumption of service to the ferry and, later, began lining up for the first Statue Cruises boat to the reopened island.

“The knee-jerk reaction was should we even go today,” said Sam Awvn from Toronto, whose family’s scheduled departure to Liberty Island was delayed by the evacuation. “But then we said, ‘Aw, what the heck.’”