An explosion along the Colonial Pipeline in rural Alabama injured at least seven workers Monday not far from where the line burst and leaked gasoline last month, authorities said. The blast, which sent flames and thick black smoke soaring over the forest, happened about a mile west of where the pipeline ruptured in September, Gov. Robert Bentley said. That break led to gasoline shortages across the South. “We’ll just hope and pray for the best,” Bentley said.
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Plagued by a severe drought after weeks without rain, the section of the state where the explosion happened has been scarred by multiple wildfires in recent weeks, and crews worked to keep the blaze from spreading across the landscape.
Coleen Vansant, a spokeswoman with the Alabama Forestry Commission, said crews built a 75-foot-long earthen dam to contain burning fuel, which will be allowed to burn itself out. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Monday night that the blaze had been contained but it was unclear how long the fire may take to burn out.
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Two wildfires caused by the explosion burned 31 acres of land, Vansant said.
Houses around the blast scene were evacuated, and Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jeff Hartley said it wasn’t clear when people might be able to return home.
“There’s a large plume of smoke; there’s a large fire. We’re not sure exactly how it started or what caused it,” he said.
Firetrucks were still arriving on the scene hours after the explosion, and ambulances were parked along a highway nearby.
“We’re got first responders entering the area, and a lot of them,” Hartley said.
The seven injured workers were taken to Birmingham hospitals by helicopter and ambulance, Bentley told WBRC-TV in a live interview. Their conditions weren’t immediately known.
Eight or nine subcontractors were working on the pipeline when it exploded about 3 p.m. Monday, Shelby County sheriff’s Maj. Ken Burchfield told Al.com.
Bentley said the explosion seems to have been an accident, but no details were available about its potential cause.
Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline said in a brief statement that it had shut down its main pipeline in the area.
“Colonial’s top priorities are the health and safety of the work crew on site and protection of the public,” the company said.
The company’s statement did not address how the explosion might affect the availability of gasoline and said more information would be released as it becomes available.
Several fire departments were sending crews to assist. The explosion happened in a remote area outside the town of Helena.
In September, the Colonial Pipeline leaked thousands of gallons of gasoline southwest of Birmingham near Helena and led to dry fuel pumps in several Southern states _ for days, in some cases. There was no immediate indication Thursday whether or not Monday’s explosion will lead to similar shortages.
Colonial Pipeline, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, transports more than 100 million gallons of products daily to markets between Houston and New York City, serving more than 50 million people, it says on its website. Those include petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. Authorities have not said which type of fuel was involved in the explosion Monday.