Crews douse drilling rig fire |

Crews douse drilling rig fire

A drilling rig being readied to be moved caught fire Sunday morning two miles east of Parachute, burning for several hours before being extinguished.

No one was injured in the incident and no homes were threatened, but area residents said the incident points to the dangers residents face from natural gas drilling in western Garfield County.

“I’m interested in what’s going to happen to us at some point when one of these really catches fire,” said Harold Graves of Battlement Mesa, who closely followed the dispatch calls on Sunday’s morning blaze from a police scanner in his home.

Gas fumes from the fire could be smelled strongly even in Battlement Mesa. Shirley Willis, a board member of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, left there with fellow GVCA member Amy Potter to head to the fire, but they couldn’t turn the heat on in their car due to the fumes, Willis said.

They joined dozens of other residents who watched from a nearby well pad as the fire was being fought.

“There was a lot of steam that came up. There wasn’t a lot of smoke but you could sure smell the gas,” Willis said.

The fire occurred in a nonresidential area north of Highway 6 and Interstate 70.

Sgt. Jim Schucker of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department said the department was first called to the scene about 4:48 a.m. The Grand Valley Fire Department extinguished the fire by about 12:30 p.m., he said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Water hauled to scene

Some 16-20 firefighters responded to the fire, said Fire Chief Dave Blair. He said all the water used to fight the fire had to be hauled to the scene by the department and a privately contracted hauler.

Willis said when she arrived at about 7:30 a.m., firefighters were hosing down the fire. When they stopped the flow of water at one point, flames “started shooting straight up the rig and out to the side quite a ways,” she said.

Bulldozers worked to move things out of the way in case the rig fell over, Willis said.

“It had started to lean with the intense heat,” she said.

Schuckers said damage was limited to the rig.

“It’s still standing in its original location but it did sustain some damages,” he said.

The rig is owned by Cyclone, a drilling contractor working on the site for Williams Production. Personnel from both companies assisted with the firefighting effort, Schuckers said.

He said industry crews shut off a gas valve at the fire site and also were installing a safety cap on the well.

Approximately seven workers were on the scene when the fire started, Schuckers said. He said they were disassembling the rig in preparation for moving it.

Graves said he wonders about the toxins that such a fire could release.

“I’m really worried about health and what it does to the environment,” he said.

Peggy Utesch, organizer of the GVCA, said the danger posed by rigs to residents long has been the organization’s main concern. The state allows drilling as close as 150 feet to homes. Though Sunday’s fire was in a remote area, it shows the threat posed to residents living close to wells, she said.

“We just believe that proximity of wells in rural residential areas poses some real dangers,” she said.

She said this was the second major gas well accident in six months in Garfield County. Last July 17, a gas well blowout forced a partial evacuation of homes on Grass Mesa south of Rifle.

‘A regular assignment’

Graves also worries about whether the Grand Valley Fire Department is adequately equipped to fight fires like Sunday’s, and wonders who bears the costs of the firefighting.

Blair said the fire was “just a regular assignment for us ” just a little bit different.”

“It was a strain only in that we had a medical call and a second structure fire alarm during the event,” he said.

Both of those emergencies ended up being minor ones, he said.

Other than the need to haul water, the big challenge posed by the rig fire was the technical nature of it, Blair said.

Still, “It really wasn’t that difficult,” he said.

He said his crews focused on cooling things down so Williams personnel could work on the well.

The fire was being fed not by the main well hole, but by a smaller one going out the side, said Blair.

“It was a small line, but it was natural gas pressure,” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much it cost to fight the fire. But as for how the cost of well fires is covered, he pointed out that energy developers pay property taxes to the fire department.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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