One man was injured with second or third degree burns and was transported by Methodist AirCare helicopter to the San Antonio Military Medical Center for treatment to his injuries. The man is 38-years-old and a resident of Gonzales.
The site, located on State Highway 80, just north of Gillett, is owned by Gulf Coast Acquisitions. At the time the fire started, 10 fiberglass tanks were on site storing a mixture of oil and saltwater, according to information from Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva.
Karnes City, Kenedy, Gillett and Nixon fire departments responded and the fire was brought under control within a few hours. State Highway 80 between Gillett and Nixon and Farm-to-Market 199 between Gillett and Yorktown were both shut down for several hours.
Villanueva said the Texas Railroad Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are expected to fully investigate the accident.
An environmental clean-up company, which was hired by Gulf Coast Acquisitions, worked at the site as part of on the clean-up operation.
Karnes City Fire Chief Charlie Malik said a worker was on top of one of the tanks when the fire started. The man was injured with second and third degree burns on his hand and face.
Only one of the 10 tanks exploded in the fire about half an hour after the fire started, Malik explained, but eight of the tanks burned in the fire. When the fire was brought under control, only one of the tanks remained standing.
Dash Cam video from a Karnes County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle captured the one tank that exploded during the fire. Video of this explosion is online at www.MySouTex.com.
None of the responding firefighters were injured during efforts to bring the fire under control and Malik said he was very pleased with the local fire departments’ response to the emergency.
Malik said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
At the time the fire started, Malik said, the worker was talking on his cell phone while on top of one of the tanks. When he opened the top of the tank, vapors ignited, causing severe burns to the man’s face and hands.
A spark from the phone might have ignited the vapors, Malik said, or a spark from something else. The man was wearing polyester gym shorts and tennis shoes and polyester clothing sometimes generates static electricity sparks under the right conditions. At this time, Malik said it is officially unknown what might have been the cause of the fire.
The Karnes Countywide reached out to Gulf Coast Acquistions, the Refugio based company that owns the facility.
A company spokesperson said the company has been advised by their attorneys not to comment about the fire and explosion at this time.
A message left with the Texas Railroad Commission for comment was not immediately returned and officials with the offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were unable to be reached due to the ongoing federal government shutdown.