It started with a hissing and then a pop. Four natural gas workers and a Tulsa firefighter were trying to turn off a ruptured gas line when it ignited.
The fire burned the four Oklahoma Natural Gas employees and the firefighter. Tulsa Fire Capt. Stan May said the firefighter’s injuries were among the worst.
The workers were taken by ambulance on “emergent” status — meaning their injuries were critical or life-threatening — to Hillcrest Medical Center, an EMSA spokesman said.
May identified the firefighter as Capt. Greg Delozier, 54, late Thursday. Delozier, a Tulsa firefighter for 18 years, had been stabilized and moved from the emergency room to a hospital room Thursday evening, May said.
Information about the ONG employees’ conditions was not available Thursday night.
The gas line was ruptured when a construction crew was digging a trench behind a rental house in the 3700 block of West 56th Street to lay conduit for a security system on Thursday afternoon.
May said the gas line had been marked, but Tulsa Housing Authority spokeswoman Saraa Kami said that particular gas line was not marked.
April Carroll, who lives nearby, saw the excavation crew flee and the Fire Department’s HazMat truck arrive.
“You could hear the gas lines hissing,” Carroll said. “You could hear it all the way down the street.”
The gas line rupture was reported around 1:30 p.m. It ignited around 3:30 p.m.
Alma Mireles said she heard a “pop” but didn’t know it was a gas explosion at the time.
After the leaking gas caught fire, flames shot above houses, burned a tree and charred the ground and a front loader. Its horn sounded for about 20 minutes while crews cleared the scene.
Firefighters were told the gas line was either a 2-inch low pressure line or 2-inch high pressure line.
Authorities were able get the gas line shut off about 4:30 p.m., and the fire burned itself out about an hour after it started.
May said firefighters could not extinguish the fire.
“We can’t just put it out,” he said. Putting water on such a fire while gas is still leaking “just causes more problems.”
While ONG crews worked to shut off the broken gas line, firefighters kept the surrounding area doused with water and protected nearby structures. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Kami said no damage had been reported to the rental houses.
Various agencies, May said, will conduct investigations into the gas line strike for different purposes. The Fire Department, he said, will investigate how and why five people, including a firefighter, were injured. ONG will investigate why and how the explosion occurred, May said.
ONG spokeswoman Cherokee Ballard said Thursday evening that about 50 customers in the area were without gas service.
She said repairs to the line were expected to be completed on Thursday night.