UPDATED: Fritz Pollard Athletic Center, EERC evacuated following alert for burning propane tank

Jan. 9—GRAND FORKS — Two university buildings were evacuated and construction was halted at a neighboring apartment complex after two propane tanks burst into flames Tuesday outside of the Fritz Pollard Athletic Center.

An all-clear was issued shortly after 2:30 p.m. after first responders arrived and contained the blaze, which began more than an hour earlier in the under-construction addition to the athletic center.

"It was a relatively quick response and so far we're just happy it's over and nobody was reported hurt," university spokesperson David Dodds said.

Members of UND's softball team were evacuated from the athletic center, as were students and staff at the nearby Energy and Environment Research Center. Work halted on the Hyslop at Memorial Village apartment complex, located directly to the west of the blaze.

The state of North Dakota issued an emergency alert warning of a propane leak near the 2500 block of Second Avenue North at 1:20 p.m.

Shortly thereafter, construction crew members at the Hyslop development reported hearing a loud bang. Photos and a video taken from the ground immediately south of the Hyslop showed a jet of flame shooting skyward.

Firefighters were on scene within minutes to contain the blaze, which escalated sometime thereafter when a second, adjacent propane tank blew. The tanks were apparently being used by the crew at the Pollard Athletic Center site to heat the site in order to pour concrete.

Fire crews doused the burning tanks from a crane above the site. According to a Grand Forks Fire Department press release, crews worked to cool the site enough that the gas supply valves on the tanks could be shut off.

An investigation determined the fire was accidental and the result of a broken fitting on one tank. A nearby heat source ignited the gas.

The fire occurred at one construction site and in the vicinity of at least three others, including the "Memorial Village II" complex and a new university softball complex located on the lot immediately north of the athletic center.

"There's a lot of construction going on in that area, so it doesn't surprise me that something like this would occur," Dodds said.

Construction at the Hyslop development was halted due to concerns about shared underground gas and steam lines connected to both the athletic center and the Hyslop, several crew members at the latter site told the Herald. The propane tanks were not connected to the gas main.

Work at the neighboring Memorial Village II appeared to go on uninterrupted.

The site where the tanks blew is a planned addition to the Pollard Athletic Center that will add new locker rooms, weight rooms and sports medicine facilities.

Dodds said Tuesday afternoon it was too soon to assess the level of damage to the construction site but appeared to minimal so far, though the concrete pour would almost certainly have to be redone.

The Fire Department reported damage was contained to construction materials and the propane tanks.