Fuel Barges Explode, Causing Large Fire in Mobile, Ala
3 critically injured with burns
24 April 2013
By Associated Press
MOBILE, Ala. — A large fire that began with explosions aboard two
fuel barges in Mobile, Ala., was rocked by a seventh explosion
early Thursday and fire officials said they planned to let the
fire, which has injured three, burn overnight.
Firefighters from Mobile and U.S. Coast Guard officials responded
after 8:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday to a pair of explosions involving
the gas barges in an area of the Mobile River east of downtown,
As they were responding, a third explosion occurred around 9:30
p.m., Mobile Fire and Rescue spokesman Steve Huffman wrote in an
email to The Associated Press. Additional explosions followed over
the next few hours.
The Coast Guard said early Thursday that a one-nautical-mile
safety zone had been established around one barge, which it said
was “at the dock for cleaning.”
Authorities said three people were transported to University of
South Alabama Medical Center after suffering burn-related
injuries. Huffman identified them as workers with Oil Recovery Co.
The three were in critical condition early Thursday, according to
hospital nursing administrator Danny Whatley.
Across the river, the Carnival Triumph, the cruise ship that
became disabled in the Gulf of Mexico last February before it was
towed to Mobile’s port, was evacuated, said Alan Waugh, who lives
at the Fort Conde Inn in downtown Mobile, across the river from
the scene of the explosions. Waugh saw the blasts and said throngs
of Carnival employees and others were clustered on streets leading
toward the river as authorities evacuated the shipyard.
“It literally sounded like bombs going off around. The sky just
lit up in orange and red,” he said, “We could smell something in
the air, we didn’t know if it was gas or smoke.” Waugh said he
could feel the heat from the explosion and when he came back
inside, his partner noticed he had what appeared to be black soot
on his face.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Carlos Vega said the initial blast
took place in a ship channel near the George C. Wallace Tunnel —
which carries traffic from Interstate 10 under the Mobile River.
The river runs south past Mobile and into Mobile Bay, which in
turn flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
Video from WALA-TV (http://bit.ly/15NEYJl)
showed flames engulfing a large section of the barge, and a video
that a bystander sent to AL.com (http://bit.ly/13vWz4G)
showed the fiery explosions and billowing smoke over the river.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, Huffman and
“Once (the fire) is out and safe, a full investigation will take
place,” Huffman wrote.
Mobile Fire Chief Steve Dean told AL.com he was confident the fire
wouldn’t spread to nearby industrial properties, including the
shipyard where the Carnival cruise ship is docked.
Huffman said the ship is directly across the river from the
incident — about two football fields in length.
The barges are owned by Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine, company
spokesman Greg Beuerman said. He said the barges were empty and
being cleaned at the Oil Recovery Co. facility when the incident
began. He said the barges had been carrying a liquid called
natural gasoline — which he said is neither liquefied natural gas
or natural gas. He said the company has dispatched a team to work
with investigators to determine what caused the fire.
The explosion comes two months after the 900-foot-long Carnival
Triumph was towed to Mobile after becoming disabled on the Gulf
during a cruise by an engine room fire, leaving thousands of
passengers to endure cold food, unsanitary conditions and power
outages for several days. The ship is still undergoing repairs
there, with many workers living on board.
Carnival didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for
comment late Wednesday.
Earlier this month, the cruise ship was dislodged from its mooring
by a windstorm that also caused, in a separate incident, two
shipyard workers to fall into Mobile Bay. While one worker was
rescued, the other’s body was pulled from the water more than a