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Air quality monitored after oilfield supply business burns in Williston

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WILLISTON, N.D. - Preliminary analysis at the site of a fire Tuesday at an oil industry supply business showed no significant issues with air quality, an official said.

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Hazardous materials teams were monitoring the area after a series of explosions caused flames to shoot 500 feet in the air at Red River Supply just east of downtown Williston early Tuesday.

Preliminary analysis of air quality shows “nothing of concern,” said Capt. Waylon Tomac, a member of the National Guard’s 81st Civil Support Team.

“We did some air sampling and air monitoring of the air underneath the plume of smoke,” he said. “We were looking for any hazardous chemicals. We didn’t find anything that significant. What we found was soot, which you get from any fire.”

Red River Supply’s website says it is a trucking and warehousing business for companies working in the oilfields. Supplying fluids used in oil drilling is listed among its services.

Mike Hallesy, Williams County emergency manager, said Red River Supply provides chemicals and sand used in hydraulic fracturing, including mud, diesel fuel, caustic sodas, silica and acids.

A regional hazardous response team, the state Department of Health’s Air Quality Division and the National Guard were among the personnel monitoring the 13-acre site Tuesday. Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency were expected to arrive Tuesday evening to do particulate testing of the ash and soot from the fire, which was reported about 12:30 a.m.

Tomac said samples also were collected from water runoff, which was contained and blocked from entering the city’s sewage system. Results of those samples were negative, he said.

Further testing of the air and water samples will be conducted by the North Dakota Department of Health.

Signs By Dan co-owner Tammy Andre stopped by the store, located a block and a half from the fire, Tuesday morning to pick up some paperwork.

“The taste in your mouth — definitely not good air quality at all. My throat was sore after 45 minutes,” Andre said.

Flames were still visible at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and black smoke continued to drift up from the site throughout the day.

Hallesy said the fire may continue to burn for days. It was decided to let what is left of the fire burn itself out because of concern for nearby waterways, including the Little Muddy River.

Williston Fire Chief Jason Catrambone said one of the five buildings at the site was destroyed and a second building was 70 percent damaged. 

There were no reports of injuries. The fire’s cause and a damage estimate were unknown Tuesday.

Red River Supply was founded by Rich Vestal and is still family owned and operated, the company’s website says. A representative of the company could not be reached for comment.

Jim Metzger, one of the owners of Dakota Diesel across the street from the fire, said he spoke to a service manager of Red River Supply who estimated 10 semi trucks and six pickups were lost in the fire.

Metzger said he saw flames shooting 400 to 500 feet in the air as it burned early Tuesday.

“It’s devastating. … You could feel the heat from the flames,” he said.

Brett Uebel lives about a mile from site of the fire and said he heard six or seven explosions about 12:15 a.m.

Terry O'Clair, director of the Health Department’s Air Quality Division, said the department has an ambient air station that monitors carbon monoxide, ozone and particulates that can be read in Bismarck.

The National Guard has portable analyzers to test for volatile organics and carbon monoxide, and the regional hazmat team also has taken readings of carbon monoxide, which were at “very low levels,” O’Clair said.

A half-mile voluntary evacuation area was set up around the business.

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily restricted flights from Williston’s Sloulin Field International Airport, but that restriction was lifted Tuesday afternoon, Hallesy said. A restriction remained in place over the fire zone two miles above the smoke plume.

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