Firefighters battle blazing gas well

West Salem Township VFD | Contributed

A natural gas well caught fire Sunday afternoon on Vernon Road in West Salem Township, which took more than four hours for firefighters to extinguish.

WEST SALEM TOWNSHIP — Firefighters from eight departments spent more than four hours Sunday battling a gas well fire in West Salem Township.

West Salem Township fire Chief Bill Brown said Mercer County 911 dispatched his department to the well, located in a field off Vernon Road in the township. The well, which produced natural gas and some crude oil, caught fire after the wellhead’s heater malfunctioned.

“The well was really rolling when our engine got there,” Brown said.

“There was a hazmat risk that the crude oil could flow out onto the ground, and there was concern that the fire may spread to the rest of the field or the oil could get into a nearby waterway,” he said.

Brown said a neighbor brought a bulldozer to help dig earthen dams around the well and contain the flammable material, while firefighters put down absorption pads to soak up water that may have mixed with oil.

Fortunately, West Salem Township firefighters was trained on dealing with gas well fires, and Brown said the firefighters’ first priority was keeping the wellhead cool and preventing any of pipes from rupturing.

“We have a number of wells in the township. We’ve had wells catch on fire from being struck by lightning, we’ve had cars that have struck them and ignited, and there’s a Marcellus Shale well that we monitor,” he said.

Once the wellhead was sufficiently cooled, the well tender and DEP official were able to restrict the flow of gas, which extinguished the fire. As a precaution, firefighters went through the area with meters to make sure any flammable gas had dispersed, Brown said.

Though there were houses around the well, none of the residents were evacuated. One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion, but otherwise there were no injuries, Brown said.

Along with West Salem Township Volunteer Fire Department, departments from Greenville, Jamestown, South Pymatuning, Sheakleyville, Transfer, Hempfield and Burghill-Vernon in Trumbull County responded to battle the blaze. Life Force ambulance service also responded and Transfer fire police controlled traffic in the area, closing a portion of state Route 358.

Mercer County Emergency Management Agency also responded with its hazardous materials trailer. The gas well’s tender and an official from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas were at the scene, Brown said.

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