Texas Pipeline Explosion Challenges Rural Responders

Explosions of natural gas pipelines are unexpected, violent, and frequently result in significant loss of lives and property. They can occur anytime, anyplace on land and at sea. An Internet sampling found the following: On March 18, 1937, a natural...


Explosions of natural gas pipelines are unexpected, violent, and frequently result in significant loss of lives and property. They can occur anytime, anyplace on land and at sea. An Internet sampling found the following: On March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak caused an explosion that destroyed...


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Three people were taken to hospitals. One victim had serious burns over 30% of her body and was being treated in a Lubbock hospital's burn unit.

"One home was destroyed and two others damaged," the chief said. "The flames were mostly contained by 5:30 A.M. Once this was accomplished, grass fires were contained and a home across the street caught fire and was extinguished. The initial home and shop were already fully involved and could not be safely approached until the gas line fire was controlled. A unified command was set up with command staff from Potter County and the City of Amarillo. A mobile operations center was set up in the high school parking lot and a staging area was also established."

Challenges Faced

"The immediate challenges were to make sure any injured people were located and treated," Lake said. "Evacuation had to be coordinated and all residents had to be accounted for. This was compounded by traffic congestion and the need to have wildland trucks close to the pipeline to contain the grass fires. Traffic had to be closed off for many miles from the neighborhood to limit the flow of onlookers."

Another challenge was to control and account for all the responding crews and all those who were on scene already. Automatic aid companies were helping with evacuation and it took some time to account for everyone.

"In a pipeline of this magnitude there is no suppression to accomplish on the pipeline itself," Lake said. "We worked closely with the gas company making sure valves on either end were shut and the residual gas allowed to burn off. Our department as well as our mutual aid partners keep foam available and it would have been available if needed for this fire. The suppressants used on this fire consisted of water and Class A foams as the fire suppression efforts were directed to exposures rather than the pipeline."

Lake continued, "This incident was handled as having the potential for large loss of life and multiple injuries. Closing of the closest valves and containing the exposure fires were the incident priorities in conjunction with evacuation and isolation. There was approximately 12 miles of gas line between the valves. Pressure in the line was above 750 psi at the time of the incident. Gas pipelines have many hazards associated with them. Identifying the product is a key concern as our area regularly transports natural gas, odorized and non-odorized, propane, crude oil, gasoline and many other hydrocarbon products. A close working relationship with the companies in the area helped us quickly determine the product and determine actions. Most of the pipelines and systems in our area have monitoring devices installed as part of the system. We were informed early on that the monitor station in Colorado Springs, CO, had recorded a pressure drop on the line at about the same time the incident was reported. Our department has responded to ruptures in the past. None of these involved fire and none were in a highly populated area."

Lesson Learned

Lake said that the lessons learned or reinforced, not necessarily in order are, "Drills, planning sessions and past responses paid off as command staff has worked together before and a truly unified command controlled the scene. Many command personnel contributed with a common purpose and goal."