By Lt. Rose Witt FUELS OFFICER, CAMP LEMONNIER DJIBOUTI
Camp Lemonnier Djibouti Fuels Department (N4) is responsible for providing air, ground and support fuel throughout the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility. As the largest fuels operation on the continent, it serves as the main fuel hub. It is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility and has operated since 2003.
When Camp Lemonnier first began fuel operations in 2007, generators were filled by jerry cans carried on trucks. It has evolved and now Camp Lemonnier has two jet fuel facilities (horizontal tanks and fuel bladders), two diesel facilities (horizontal tanks at the gas station and generator plant) and one mogas facility. N4 Fuels issues approximately 11 million gallons of jet fuel to about 6,000 aircraft, six million gallons of diesel to base generators, incinerators, boats and ground vehicles and 45,000 gallons of automotive gasoline (mogas) to ground vehicles yearly.
When working with any hazardous material, the Navy stresses safety and being prepared for anything. This was put to the ultimate test the night of Nov. 14, 2019. I received a phone call that fuel bladder number three (210,000 gallons) had ruptured and all of the fuel had escaped the bag. I arrived on scene and was relieved to see that while the bladder had ruptured, all 145,000 gallons of jet fuel were still contained in the berm. The berm is an earthen mound covered with a liner that is built to hold fuel in the event fuel escapes from the bladder.
The entire camp came together as a team that night and worked emergency fuel response plans. The security and fire department set up a watch rotation to ensure the fuel was continuously watched and was not a hazard to any personnel. The command duty officer reported the incident up the chain of command. The public works department worked to create an emergent task order so the contractor could conduct the repair work. The fuels team briefed personnel and let them know what work would need to occur over the next couple of days.
The next day, a second temporary berm was built and a liner and temporary bladder were placed. The escaped fuel was pumped from within the berm with the ruptured bladder to the temporary bladder. The fuel pumping process finished at approximately 2 a.m. Just four hours later, Camp Lemonnier experienced extreme rainfall.
The fuels team spent the next few days recirculating the fuel through filters to remove impurities and sediment and increase the chance of keeping the product at grade. During this same period, the city of Djibouti received two years’ worth of rainfall. The fuels team was able to save the fuel, pump water from berms and fuels locations, maintain throughways for fuel trucks and issue fuel with no interruptions. After the storm, the fuel was tested at a laboratory and the fuel was graded as JP-8. Now, the fuel resides safely inside of the new bladder.
All in all, it was a win for Camp Lemonnier, and the team expertly handled what could have been a costly incident.