Featured Story-Pipeline Fire

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 25, 2011

Fire fighters, including Batesville fireman L. Lee Garner (above) could only stand by as gas from a ruptured Tennessee Gas pipeline burned away Monday night. The towering inferno could be seen from as far away as Oxford. They were staged on Macedonia Road at its intersection with Seven Road. The fire is about 1/2 mile further east.

Firemen, including (from right) BFD training officer Cowles Horton, BFD Chief Tim Taylor and Curtis-Locke Station Chief Dwayne Vest could only stand by and allow the flames to deplete the gas escaping from the pipeline.

Entergy high-voltage line were close enough to burning gas that several wooden poles ignited. Panola EMA coordinator Daniel Cole could be heard of emergency frequency radio cautioning about downed lines. Photo by Angie Ledbetter

Known damage from Monday night’s pipeline fire was limited to the transmission line of the gas company and those overhead that belong to Entergy. Officials were expected to view the scene from the Tallahatchie River levee road at first light Tuesday. Photo by Angie Ledbetter

Flames seen from as far away as Oxford
By John Howell

A towering inferno of burning natural gas could be seen from as far away as Oxford Monday night after a high pressure pipeline near the Tallahatchie River burst and the gas somehow ignited.

Panola County Road Manager Lygunnah Bean who lives near the site on George Thomas Lane said he heard the escaping gas about 8:30 p.m. “roaring real loud like a train” and called a friend who was working at the Tennessee Gas Pipeline pumping station on Highway 6.

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“He was real excited,” Bean said, when he answered the phone. The TGT employee had seen a drop in pressure that indicated a large quantity of escaping gas. Bean said he also called Panola Emergency Management coordinator Daniel Cole.

“We had no idea it was going to catch on fire; I’ve seen these things blow up on Red Hill,” Bean said.

But the escaping gas ignited shortly after Bean first heard it, sending billows of flame hundreds of feet into the sky. Fire departments were from across the county were mobilized, but there was little to be done except to evacuate nearby residents — Bean’s neighbors on George Thomas Lane and residents of nearby Macedonia and Seven Roads.

The fire boiling from the burst pipe was at least one-half mile distant from the nearest home on the inside of the river levee. The only damage other than to the pipeline itself was to Entergy high voltage transmission lines which pass nearby. At least one pole could be seen burning in the distance while a second smoldered.

Cole said that the flames had burned through the high voltage lines, which were downed.

Trucks and firefighters from the Curtis-Locke Station, Red Hill and Batesville Fire Departments and law enforcement officers staged along Macedonia Road, near its intersection with Seven Road. Other law officials monitored the high volume of traffic as onlookers attracted by the huge fire tried to learn its source. At one time officers shut down Highway 6 to all but emergency traffic, routing east/west traffic south through Crowder and to State Route 322.

About 9:25 p.m. firemen received word from Tennessee Gas personnel that cutoff valves had been closed to shut off the supply of gas feeding through the pipeline. The gas company officials said that it might take two hours for flames to consume the gas still in the pipes. Initially, the flames continued to roar. From Macedonia Road the roar of escaping gas could easily be heard, but the flames were distant enough so that no heat was felt.

At first the fire did not appear to respond to the dwindling supply of gas, but by 9:55 p.m. the flames were dying down. By 10:20, Curtis-Locke Station Fire Chief Dwayne Best released fire personnel and equipment from the Batesville and Red Hill Departments. At 10:25, the Curtis-Locke Station firemen also prepared to leave.

Panola County Sheriff Otis Griffin ordered that deputies stand watch on Macedonia and Seven Roads to prevent through traffic during the night.

A Tennessee Gas employee said that the pipeline can hold up to 950 pounds of pressure per square inch. The nearby pumping station re-pressurizes gas traveling from Texas gas fields to northeastern markets.