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Residents ask for early warning system after gas plant fire

Posted on by SST

Kent community residents are insisting owners of a nearby natural gas plant install a buzzer system that will alert them to evacuate.

The concern comes after a fire struck the Natrium, W.Va., Blue Racer Midstream plant earlier in the fall. Residents were startled by an explosion early in the morning on Sept. 21, TribLive reported. Firefighters and plant employees responded to a fire call around 1:30 a.m.

Community evacuates
"It woke us up. It shook the house," said Jim Hunt, fire chief of the Clarington, Ohio, Volunteer Fire Department. "I thought maybe the house next to us or two doors [down blew] up. And then I see an orange flame."

As a precaution, homes in the Kent community north of the plant were evacuated. About 25 residents from 11 houses were kept clear of the area, Midstream Business reported. Nearby Route 2 was closed for several hours.

Meanwhile, six local fire companies worked to control the blaze, containing it to a small portion of the facility. By 8:30 a.m., the fire had burned itself out. The threat to the public had been quelled and no injuries were reported.

Insufficient warning
Although residents were only evacuated for 90 minutes, many felt the initial alert was inadequate. According to resident Delbert Wade, Kent community members had to evacuate on their own after noticing flames coming from the plant, Wheeling News-Register reported. Disappointed by a lack of hazard communication, Wade and other residents met with plant officials during October to discuss safety issues and recommend the installation of a fire alarm system in the neighborhood.

However, over a month later, no progress has been made. As concern grows, residents are impatient.

"I have people calling me every day wanting to know what's going on," said Wade. "A lot of them talk about moving and I have to say I have nothing to tell them."

Explosive materials
Being a producer of highly-flammable fuel, a fire or explosion could have devastating consequences. According to TribLive, the plant processes 200 million cubic feet of natural gas and fractionate 36,000 barrels of liquid natural each day. While the September fire was contained, had it spread to other areas of the plant, large amounts of natural gas could have ignited.

During the month of October there were at least four natural gas explosions in the U.S. that damaged homes, evacuated residents, or caused injuries, according to Natural Gas Watch. These incidents highlight the danger natural gas can pose to facilities and neighborhoods. One incident at a hydraulic fracturing plant in Oklahoma sent flames shooting into the air, visible up to 50 miles away.

With such incidents appearing in the headlines, Kent community residents could be concerned about another explosion happening in the future.

Plant officials insist that plans are being made to improve hazard communication with residents. According to Frank Mack, spokesman for one of the plant owners, the company does have plans to install a buzzer system. They also plan to organize a community advisory panel in which residents can voice concerns to the company.

But according to Wade, the plans are not being enacted quickly enough and residents are at risk with each passing day.

"They seem to be dragging their feet," Wade said. "What's to keep [a fire] from happening again tonight? The potential is still there. This is a wonderful neighborhood, it would be heartbreaking to move."

Residents are hopeful that their concerns will be met and measures will be enacted to ensure the safety of the small community. Other devices, like a flame detector, can notify plant officials before a fire spreads to hazardous materials and escalates.

Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.

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