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2 People Hurt In East Texas Oil Tank Explosion

Oil Tank Explosion
(credit: KTVT/KTXA)

VAN (CBSDFW.COM) - A man and woman allegedly smoking atop an oil storage tank triggered an explosion and fire in rural Van Zandt county early Tuesday.

The explosion and fire rocked the quiet countryside north of Van, rousting neighbors James and Ruby Oliver out of bed.  "It was a loud "boom" and woke us up, James told CBS-11 News.  "You ever hear a big "boom?" That's what it sounded like.  A big boom."

County fire marshal Chuck Allen says it was started when a man and woman - both 24 - climbed to the catwalk atop one of the oil storage tanks containing a small amount of salt water, oil and highly flammable vapor.  "They came out here just to have some quiet time," he said, "And they lit up a cigarette, and the next thing they knew there was an explosion out of this number-1 tank behind me."

Two fiberglass storage tanks caught fire immediately. A third eventually burned as well.

The couple on the tank were severely injured. The woman is reported to be on life support; Allen says he got a few words with the man who he says had 2nd degree burns on his head, chest and arms.  "Just real confused, thinks he's lucky to be alive."

Both burn victims went to a Tyler hospital, then on to Parkland in Dallas. Neither is being formally identified at this time.

Fire fighters let the flames burn themselves out.  Allen explained, "We just want to prevent any kind of runoff that could contaminte the enivronment here; the easiest thing to do is let it burn itself out."

The incident brought out the curious, including high school senior  Emily McMillan, who isconsidering a career in journalism.  "It's crazy, it's kind of like one of those freak accidents; you don't really know how to respond to it."  then she added, "I wonder who it is, I hope it's not anybody I know. All I can do is pray for them."

With the fire contained, except for a few hot spots, attention was turned to spilled oil and keeping the liquid from running into a nearby creek.  The runoff concerned Ruby Oliver.  "We're on a community water system and it's scary to think all of that may get into our drinking water."   A state environmental inspector was concerned as well.  She was on the scene by mid-morning.  Oil crews spent the day damming the runoff and removing contaminated soil in an effort to limit any possible damage."

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