Pipeline blaze rose hundreds of feet in air: firefighter

HELENA, Alabama (Reuters) - The column of fire burning from the punctured Colonial Pipeline [COLPI.UL] on Monday afternoon reached 150 feet (45 metres) above the 75-foot tall trees in dense forest 12 miles (19 km) south of Helena, Alabama, the deputy chief of the town’s fire department said on Tuesday.

“It had to be a puncture,” said Helena Deputy Fire Chief Peter Valenti, one of the first emergency responders to reach the blaze. “The fire was going straight up. If it had been a rupture, it would have been running all over the ground.”

Colonial said on Tuesday it could resume sending gasoline through the pipeline by Saturday, after repairs are complete.

One person was killed and five others injured in the blaze. They were all members of a construction crew working on the pipeline on Monday. It appeared the crew struck the pipe with a backhoe, Colonial officials said on Tuesday.

Looking at the blaze on Monday, Valenti said it was apparent that the rescue of the injured workers was his first priority.

“It was safer to let the gasoline burn out,” he said. “The crew was on the other side of pipeline from where we were. The heat was keeping us back. We had to work our way around.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, a steady stream of tractor-trailers carrying heavy repair equipment and pickup trucks carrying workers rumbled through Helena, a town of 18,000, down a winding two-lane blacktop highway, turning off on the dusty dirt road to the scene of the fire, which was reduced to a small blaze.

Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Richard Pullin