Federal officials investigate explosion: Cleanup in Williston could take weeks
WILLISTON — After Tuesday’s fire at an oil industry company, federal officials were on the ground doing air sampling and monitoring, and setting their sights on a cleanup that could take weeks.
Hazardous materials teams have been monitoring the area after a series of explosions caused flames to shoot 500 feet in the air at Red River Supply, which provides fluids and other materials for the oil drilling industry, just east of downtown Williston early Tuesday.
“The good news is that there is no indication that there are significant levels outside the (half mile) evacuation zone,” Environmental Protection Agency on-scene coordinator Paul Peronard said Wednesday.
Peronard arrived about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday to find firefighters spraying hot spots. An hour later, he said, five fixed monitors were in place to detect particulates and have been “running continuously” since then.
Particulates or particles smaller than 10 microns can lodge in a person’s lungs and lead to all sorts of respiratory issues, he said.
A variety of handheld monitoring instruments, designed to detect different kinds of chemicals, also are being used.
“We saw elevated levels around the fire itself — carbon monoxide, particulates and some volatile organic compounds — but that was in the immediate vicinity and immediately downwind of the fire,” Peronard said.
The next step, he said, was ensuring the fire is out followed by a plan to clean up.
That would involve sorting through the debris and inspecting containers. Some material may need to be transported to a hazardous waste disposal, Peronard said.
Greg Ulberg, an air monitoring technician with the North Dakota Department of Health, said cleanup could take weeks.
Four earthen dams and berms had been constructed to keep water used to fight the fire from entering the city’s storm drains. Trucks were sucking up water from the fire area and from a ditch adjacent to the Little Muddy River.
Late Wednesday afternoon Cory Hanson, deputy chief of Williston’s volunteer fire department, drove to the site after working his regular job to assist with “hitting the hot spots.”
Hanson said he arrived at the fire about 12:20 a.m. Tuesday to “a lot of flames and a lot of smoke.” In December, the department had battled another large fire when two large apartment complexes caught fire.
But the magnitude of the Red River Supply fire involved a variety of chemicals with different reactions, making it a challenge. The fire’s cause and damages were unknown Wednesday. Hanson said the department would need to determine the contents that were lost in the buildings before assigning a value.
Williston, like many communities across the state, relies on volunteers to run its fire department. Hanson has volunteered nearly two decades, alongside others who are always “willing to put in the time and effort.”
“Our guys showed up on scene, they know their jobs, they take it very serious,” Hanson said. “The crew did a phenomenal job. … By last night, the mood was tired.”