MILFORD (CBSDFW.COM) - Nearly everyone has been evacuated from the North Texas town of Milford, about 20 miles south of Waxahachie, after a 10-inch Chevron natural gas pipeline exploded around 9:30 Thursday morning. All of Chevron's employees, who were working onsite, were immediately accounted for and no injuries were reported. Initially, a one-mile radius around the explosion site was blocked off as crews allowed the fire to burn off on its own. Authorities later increased it to a 1.5 mile radius. It's estimated the fire could burn up to 36 hours, and county officials have issued an evacuation order preventing Milford residents from returning to their homes until tomorrow.
CBS 11 confirmed the transmission line which moves liquid petroleum gas, or natural gas, was hit while a five-person construction crew was doing excavation work at the site. Because the shut off valve was not easy to get to, first responders determined it was best to let the fire burn. There is a second, 14-inch transmission line just a few feet away from the burning pipeline, but Hill County Emergency Management decided it was safer not to shut it off. Authorities are closely monitoring the situation and said they did not believe the second transmission line was compromised.
In the minutes following the explosion, Ellis County Sheriff's Deputies went from door to door to evacuate the entire town, which has a population of about 700. About 200 Milford ISD students were also transported from their schools to the Italy Independent School District. Italy ISD spokesperson Natasha Blackburn told CBS 11 News that all the children were picked up and taken to a safe shelter in the nearby town within a 20-minute time period. Milford ISD classes have been cancelled for Friday. Students told CBS 11's Susy Solis that they heard a boom at 9:30, then stepped outside and saw the flames.
Twelve-year-old Donovan Sigler says he was in gym class, when he felt the floor shake. He lives within a mile of the explosion site and cannot return home until the evacuation order is lifted. The American Red Cross is setting up a shelter at Italy High school for residents who will not be allowed back to their homes tonight.
Milford ISD Superintendent Don Clingenpeel did not feel the explosion, but heard it less than a mile away. "Heard a little boom and looked out the window, and you could see the flames billowing in the air."
Chevron issued the following statement about the explosion:
At approximately 9.30 a.m. (CST) today there was an incident at the Chevron-operated West Texas LPG system near Milford, Texas. A crew was performing excavation activities at the site when a rupture in the line was reported. Five workers at the site were immediately evacuated. All employees are accounted for and there are no reported injuries.
Chevron has initiated its emergency response procedures and is working with the appropriate local, state agencies and emergency response organizations to assess the current situation and respond to the incident.
The flow of product in the pipeline has been shut-off and residual burn continues. There is an adjacent Chevron owned 14" LPG pipeline that the company is currently monitoring. Chevron and emergency response organizations are actively monitoring the incident and taking every precaution to contain and ultimately extinguish the fire.
Chevron's primary concern is to ensure the safety of the surrounding community and our employees. Chevron will continue working with the community and its leaders to identify and respond to their needs.
The CBS 11 I-Team examined Chevron safety records, both on the federal and state levels. From 2006 until 2013, eight state incidents and 55 federal incidents have been reported, according to state and federal agencies. The Milford pipeline is federally regulated, which means the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will be in charge of the investigation, which could take anywhere from six months to 20 months to complete. The federal agency is sending one representative from Houston to investigate what led up to the explosion. PHSMA is not commenting on the age of the pipeline, its last inspection or any previous problems at this time. The Texas Railroad Commission is also sending an inspector to Milford. Also, an EPA response team from Dallas is on its way to Milford to analyze the scene.
Representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality arrived in Milford to test air quality, as residents worried about the health effects of the thick, black smoke that poured into the air for hours. The smoke traveled so far, you could see a thin haze more than 40 miles away along the downtown Dallas skyline. Anyone with respiratory or underlying health issues is being told to remain inside.
Christie Tucker said she was worried about her 7-year-old son, who has asthma. "I'm worried when we go back now and how he's going to react."
Evonne Amison also echoed concerns about what was in the air and how it could affect her later. "Will it affect us in any kind of way when it's safe to go back home?"
TxDOT crews closed several roads and established detours around the explosion, which will remain in place through Friday morning.
The closures are:
- FM 308 in Milford – closed from State Highway 22 in Hill County to US 77 in Ellis County.
- US 77 in Milford – closed in the immediate area of the explosion
- I-35E exit ramps to Milford are closed
- FM 566 from IH 35 to US 77 in Milford
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