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Gas fire worries nearby residents

Bobby MagillGlenwood Springs correspondent

RIFLE – Flames reportedly shot 200 feet above an EnCana natural gas well pad after a fire broke out Monday night on Hunter Mesa.Residents of nearby Grass Mesa looked on as Rifle firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze, in a condensate tank and pit. The cause is under investigation, EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said. “I had nightmares all night about it,” said Dry Hollow resident Beth Dardynski, who drove out to take pictures of the fire. The blaze was contained within the pad area after it started about 5:25 p.m. on the Cedar Springs Ranch, Hock said. There were no injuries. Crews shut off the flow of gas to the well to prevent it from burning. Firefighter Matt Mollenkamp said the Rifle Fire Department spent about five hours working on the blaze. “Because there was no immediate life safety issues, we went ahead and let the tank burn itself out,” he said. Once the fire died down, the crew used foam to douse the fire. Mollenkamp said EnCana will be in charge of investigating the cause of the fire. Meanwhile, area residents are concerned about the potential for more fires on nearby well pads and the health effects of the smoke from Monday’s fire. Hock said the smoke initially drifted skyward, but later in the evening, the black plume moved toward nearby residences. Grass Mesa resident Sara Wussow said there are “huge, nasty chemicals” in smoke from condensate tanks, adding that she wishes EnCana would be more forthright with information about the health hazards of condensate fires. Hock wouldn’t say Monday what kind of health risk the smoke posed or what particulate matter may have been in the smoke. He said Garfield County Environmental Health Manager Jim Rada would have the best answers for those questions. But Rada, who watched the fire burn Monday, said he doesn’t know what was in the smoke. “Obviously, there’s a substantial amount of particulates involved,” he said.”The blackness of it [the smoke] would indicate that it’s heavy in carbon particulates.”Dardynski said she believes residents are being told too little about the health hazards wells and fires pose to those who live nearby. “It wasn’t like they were burning off a pile of leaves, they’re burning off chemical substances that aren’t completely breaking down,” she said. “We don’t know what was actually in that condensate tank and that reserve pit that caught on fire. We’re all supposed to shut up and look in the other direction and forget it ever happened.”Grass Mesa resident Garland Anderson said he saw the smoke Monday night, but wasn’t aware of what was actually happening. “It appears to me, just from the experience we’ve had so far in our valley with the gas and oil people and the well pads and all this stuff, that the potential for a fire and explosion and injury … and damage to property is really escalated, and I think it’s going to escalate even more,” said Anderson, who lives not far from Hunter Mesa.


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