The Jupiter Blaze At
By James Donahue
The fire that destroyed the gasoline tanker Jupiter on Sept. 16, 1990, was so spectacular its
smoke could be seen for nearly 50 miles.
The 14-year-old vessel, owned and operated by Cleveland Tankers, Inc., of Cleveland,
specialized in the delivery of highly volatile petroleum products to Great Lakes ports.
On the day of the fire, the Jupiter was unloading 54,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline at the Total Petroleum
dock on the Saginaw River at Bay City, Michigan.
At about 8:30 a.m. that
Sunday morning the up-bound motor ship Buffalo passed close
by the tanker. The Coast Guard said the suction from the Buffalo’s
propellers caused the Jupiter to pull away from the dock, breaking the fuel lines.
There was also a spark that ignited the gasoline and the ship was quickly engulfed. At the time the tanker
still had about 22,000 of gasoline still aboard.
Flames shot over 100 feet into the air as members of the ships crew scrambled for their lives. One crew member
dove into the river and drowned before reaching safety.
The fire was so hot that the Coast Guard ships Bramble and Bristol
could not contain the flames with shipboard firefighting equipment. A special team from Williams, Boots & Coots Firefighters
and Hazard Control Specialists of Port Nechels, Texas, was
flown in the next day to put out the blaze.
It was not until Tuesday morning, Sept. 18, that the fire was extinguished. The tanker was declared a total
constructive loss. The wreck was towed upriver to the old DeFoe Shipyard dock at Bay
City where a crane was erected for dismantling the burned wreckage.
A National Transportation Safety Board later ruled that the Total Petroleum Co. was responsible for the fire
because of faulty moorings. The Buffalo was thus exonerated
from the primary responsibility.
The Mind of James Donahue