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Texas pipeline explodes as crew drills into line, causing huge fire

HOUSTON — Officials are letting a fire burn out at a Chevron gas pipeline line that exploded in the rural north Texas town of Milford on Thursday and prompted evacuations.

No injuries have been reported after the 9:40 a.m. CST explosion in Milford, home to about 700 residents 50 miles south of Dallas, officials said.

Sara Garcia, special projects director for the county judge who has been receiving updates on the fire, told the Los Angeles Times that Chevron representatives were on site.

Officials have evacuated a one-mile radius around the fire, including students in the Milford Independent School District, who were moved to schools in a neighboring town, Garcia said. The town will remain evacuated for 24 hours.

Chevron officials could not be reached for comment. They released a statement:

“Chevron has initiated its emergency response procedures and is currently responding to the incident. Chevron's primary concern at this point is to ensure the safety of its employees and the surrounding community. As soon as there are further details, they will be made available."

The 10 inch West Texas LPG line is operated by Chevron, and is an interstate pipeline that falls under the jurisdiction of the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration, which was sending inspectors to the scene, according to a Gaye McElwain, a spokeswoman for the Texas Railroad Commission, which has inspectors at the scene.

Tom Hemrick, director of Hill County Emergency Management, told The Times that the explosion occurred after a construction crew accidentally drilled into the line. None of the workers were injured, he said, and emergency crews were not approaching the fire because of safety concerns.

“We’re not going to send anyone else in there with the danger,” Hemrick said, "The people with the gas lines have told us it’s going to burn for another 24 hours. They’ve shut it off at one end and have evacuated folks at the other end.”

Another 14-inch line sits a few feet from the one that exploded and was still flowing because stopping it would increase the risk of a secondary explosion, he said.

"They said the products in the other line actually cool the line [that exploded], so it’s safer than shutting that line off," Hemrick said, “The smoke is going to be the issue — people breathing it in. If the wind shifted, people with breathing problems, it’s just not good to breath that stuff in,” he said.

He wasn’t sure how many residents had been evacuated. They were sent to a concrete dome-style gym in the nearby town of Italy.

“They’re far enough away — the fumes are going straight up in the air,” Hemrick said as he stood at a command post Thursday afternoon within site of the fire.

He said officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arrived at the scene Thursday afternoon.

"EPA Emergency Response personnel are assisting with the response efforts to determine environmental effects of the explosion and provide additional support as requested," said Joe Hubbard, a spokesman for the EPA regional office in Dallas.

For many, news of the explosion brought back memories of the massive blast in April at a fertilizer plant about 30 miles south in West, Texas. That explosion killed 15 people, including a dozen volunteer firefighters, and injured more than 160 others.

West had a population of about 2,800, some of whom were living in an apartment complex and nursing home near the site of that explosion. But in Milford, the explosion occurred in a rural area far from most homes, officials said.

Some of the emergency responders killed in West had rushed in to fight the fire that followed that explosion. In Milford, emergency personnel kept their distance after the blast, managing evacuations and securing the scene, Hemrick said.

“Most of the people here on this scene were at West. It’s amazing how smooth the response has been,” he said, “We learned a lot from West. It went by the book, everybody was accountable and we knew who was here. Right now it’s really just a waiting game.”

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