“It was a firestorm from hell,” Calliham Fire Chief Will McBee said.
Lightning struck one of the fiberglass tanks at Bellows Operating Company’s saltwater deposit tank battery location about 15 miles south of Jourdanton on Highway 16.
Company owner Gary Bellows said the tanks contain condensated oil and fumes which caused the tanks to ignite when struck. Gaye Greever McElwain, public outreach with the Texas Railroad Commission, said the vapor ignited due to the static electricity caused by the lightning.
“Sometimes that’s worse than having a tank full of oil,” Bellows said. “It was just an act of God; we had grounding programs in place.”
There were no fatalities or injuries.
Bellows said company policy is for crews to evacuate once lightning is within 10 miles of the facility. By the time the fire ignited, all employees and trucks were off site to watch as fire crews from Tilden, Calliham, Three Rivers, Christine, and Jourdanton arrived on site with two pumper trucks and four or five brush trucks.
Fire crews were called in at about 7-7:30 p.m., according to McBee. Highway 16 was shut down from FM Road 791 to FM 140 until about 1:30 a.m.
But, crews had to wait approximately four hours for the fire to die down enough to begin spraying with foam safely. At its peak the flames were approximately 80 feet high and generally burned between 30-40 feet high.
Hazmat crews showed up on Saturday to begin the cleanup process. Nothing was left to salvage from the 16-tank facility, according to Bellows. He also said wells and flow-lines are in good condition.