Gas pipeline explosion rocks Hargett area

fire-3A Columbia Gulf  transmission gas line exploded Monday night, lighting up the sky over most of central and eastern Kentucky.
Firefighters were dispatched at about 7:15 p.m. to a location about 200 yards off Kentucky 89, approximately seven miles from Irvine, according to Estill County Fire Chief Derrick Muncie.
“People were calling dispatch and saying there was some kind of explosion. Half of the people in the county heard or felt it,” Muncie said.
Muncie explained that local firefighters had received several training sessions over the years on how to handle a gas fire.
“You can’t put this kind of fire out. All we could do was to protect life and property in the area. We evacuated between 35 and 50 people and waited on the gas company to close valves,” Muncie explained. “Some people just left on their own.”
Muncie said when the line exploded, it created a crater that spanned at least 100 feet. Grass and some trees were burned.  over an area of two to three acres.
There were reports of vinyl siding on one home that melted and some windows were blown out.
Kentucky 89 was closed at the intersection with Kentucky 82 at Hargett. It was also closed at  New Fox Road.
“We met with the gas company around midnight and they said they wanted all the residents who were evacuated to stay out for the night. I think most of them went back home,” Muncie said. “We reopened the road at that time.”
He said there was an immediate change as soon as the gas company personnel closed the valves.
“The fire began dying down,” Muncie said.
There are three transmission lines in the area. Two are 30 inch lines through which gas is still being pumped. The line that exploded is a 36 inch line.
Cindy Donaldson, public information officer for Columbia Gulf Transmission in Houston, Texas, said that their employees responded immediately and worked with local authorities to contain and extinguish the fire.
“At this time there are no reports of injuries. Columbia Gulf’s first priority is to ensure public safety and secure the area, which will be followed by an investigation into the cause. The company will cooperate with all local, state and federal investigators. Columbia Gulf Transmission continues to meet its delivery commitments to the market,” Donaldson said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Employee and public safety remains the company’s top priority throughout this process and all operations.”
In a follow-up e-mail, Donaldson revealed that the pipeline was installed in 1966. She wrote that Columbia Gulf Transmission lines run from Rayne, La. to Leach, Ky.
“It connects to Columbia Gas Transmission at Leach and moves gas to the north and east, providing natural gas to the Mid-Atlantic states. There has been no loss of service due to this incident. Gas that would flow through the affected area of (that) line has been re-routed to the other Columbia Gulf Transmission lines,” she wrote.
Residents close to the blast said they thought they were experiencing an earthquake.
“I felt my home shake and I looked out the window and saw what looked like the sun setting and I knew it was too late for sunset,” a resident explained. “Then I saw a fireball go up.”
Several counties offered to send manpower. Personnel from the Waco Fire Department helped with traffic control.
Muncie said a command center was set up at the Hargett Fire Station.
Hargett Chief Jon Wise said 35 local firefighters responded.
Estill Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor said he was proud of the county’s first responders.
“It is very fortunate that nobody was hurt. I am very proud of our emergency personnel. They handled it very well,” he said.