Massive blaze at ND oilfield supply company; air, water quality being monitored


More than 30 hours after a series of explosions sent fireballs shooting hundreds of feet into the night sky above Williston, North Dakota, the massive blaze at a local supply company has finally fizzled out.

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No injuries were reported in connection with the fire, WDAY reports, which began just after midnight Tuesday at a storage yard for Red River Supply, in the southeast corner of the town.

Smoke from the flames hung in the air through much of Tuesday, remnants of a blaze that witnesses said reached nearly 500 feet in the air, WDAY reports. The Williams County emergency manager, Mike Hallesy, told the station authorities decided to let the fire burn itself out; concerns about runoff if firefighters sprayed water were deemed too much of a risk, especially for the nearby Little Muddy River.

The Williston Herald reports the state's Department of Health and other agencies are monitoring both air and water quality, and the city is awaiting those reports. The station says a voluntary evacuation remains in effect for all areas within a half-mile of the site of the blaze.

Preliminary readings show no issues with air or water quality at this point, Bakken Today reports.

It is not yet known what caused the fire. Bakken Today says witnesses reported hearing multiple explosions.

One YouTube user who uploaded a 12-minute video of the sky-high flames (see the screenshot at left) says he was trying to sleep, heard some explosions and got up to see what it was. He says there was still a "massive plume of smoke" nearly nine hours later.

According to KXNews, Hallesy said chemicals used in fracking were burning. Red River Supply offers trucking, warehousing and logistics services for oil companies in the area, according to its website, which includes the handling of oilfield-related fluids and chemicals.

Planes, trains, automobiles affected

Transportation in the area had to be re-routed.

The fire caused all flights in and out of Williston to be canceled through Tuesday afternoon, the Associated Press reported, with aircraft still banned from going within a couple miles of the smoke plume through at least the rest of Tuesday.

Early Tuesday morning, the Williston Herald says all traffic was blocked from going within eight blocks of the scene. Drivers were urged to find different routes around the area.

The Red River Supply yard is located next to a rail line, and served as a loading facility for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the paper reports.

Williston and oil

Williston is at the heart of the Bakken oil patch, and one of the main beneficiaries of the North Dakota oil boom. Workers have flooded to the state in recent years,

The oil boom has led to a population explosion in western North Dakota, bringing in thousands of people seeking work. Many reside in hastily-assembled trailer parks or man camps made up of pre-fabricated structures that can resemble a military barracks.

Williston's population jumped from about 13,000 to more than 18,000 from 2009-2012,

Oil money has pushed rents to among the highest in the nation: a simple one bedroom apartment in Williston can rent for $2,000 a month.

And the oil boom has brought with it a baby boom, as the number of births in North Dakota topped 10,000 in 2012, hitting a baby benchmark not reached in nearly a quarter century.

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