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Fuel Barges Explode on Alabama River

Three people seriously injured in fire ultimately determined too big to fight

Jon Queally, staff writer

In just the latest example of the toxic and volatile nature of the fossil fuel industry's infrastructure in the US, a pair of fuel barges carrying what's call "natural gasoline" on the Mobile River in Alabama exploded late Wednesday night, causing fires that put at least three people in the hospital and closing down the busy waterway to all traffic.

A first round of explosions were followed by others throughout the night as firefighters determined the boats were too dangerous to board and a decision was made to allow the fires to burn themselves out.

"It literally sounded like bombs going off around. The sky just lit up in orange and red," said witness Alan Waugh to the Associated Press. The man, who lives across the river from the scene of the explosions, said the heat from the blast could be felt from where he was and left black soot on his face even from that distance.

"We could smell something in the air, we didn't know if it was gas or smoke," he said.

According to wikipedia, so-called 'natural gasoline' is a mixture composed of hydorcarbons extracted from natural gas but is maintained as a liquid under controlled temperatures and pressure. According to the online encyclopedia, it is both "volatile and unstable" and is often "blended with other hydrocarbons to produce commercial gasoline."

Relating to the explosion, reports:

Mobile Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Steve Huffman told CNN three people were taken to a hospital for treatment of burns from the Wednesday evening explosion.

The department said on its official Twitter feed the incident included at least three explosions. Huffman said the cause of the blasts had not been determined late Wednesday.

U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Eric King said a 1-mile safety zone has been established around the barges and the shipping channel was closed as firefighters allowed the fires to burn.

The Associated Press adds:

The barges are owned by Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine, company spokesman Greg Beuerman said. He said the barges were empty and being cleaned at the Oil Recovery Co. facility when the incident began. He said the barges had been carrying a liquid called natural gasoline – which he said is neither liquefied natural gas or natural gas. He said the company has dispatched a team to work with investigators to determine what caused the fire.


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