A Washington State plant fire at a natural gas processing facility injured five workers and forced the evacuation of approximately 400 residents Monday afternoon as a mushroom cloud of smoke reportedly engulfed the surrounding area.
The blast occurred at 8:20 a.m. at the Williams Northwest Pipeline facility near the Washington town of Plymouth, which is located near the Oregon border along the Columbia River. The plant's fire punctured one of the facility's two giant storage tanks that contained liquefied natural gas, causing a small amount of gas to leak from the tank into a moat-like area surrounding it, The Associated Press reported
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"I think if one of those huge tanks had exploded, it might have been a different story," Benton County Sheriff Steven Keane told reporters after the plant fire was contained. It reportedly took firefighters several hours to extinguish the fire.
Of the injuries sustained by the workers, none are believed to be life-threatening.
"I looked across the river and saw a giant mushroom cloud and flames at least a couple hundred feet high," Cindi Stefani, who lives a little more than a mile from the plant on the other side of the Columbia River, told the AP.
"It was just a very loud boom," Stefani added, noting that many of the farm animals on the surrounding properties were running about scared from the blast. "At that point we were pretty scared. I was thinking, 'We need to get out of here.'"
All residents living within 2 miles of the fire were subsequently evacuated on a voluntary basis by sheriff deputies, the majority of which however were allowed to return late Monday night.
According to Williams Northwest Pipeline spokeswoman Michele Swaner, each of the two storage tanks can contain up to 1.2 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas. The punctured tank was reportedly a third of the way full. The facility provides supplementary gas to a 4,000-mile pipeline that stretches from southern Utah to the Canadian border.
While the facility generally has between 17 and 18 employees, Swaner told the AP that just 14 workers were at the plant at the time of the fire, all of which have been accounted for.
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