MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Mobile Fire Chief Stephen Dean said he is proud of the first responders who rushed to the fiery scene on the Mobile River Wednesday, April 24.
He said fire crews initially responded to a structure fire at around 8:30 p.m. A series of seven explosions on the scene, however, told a different story.
"We had one engine crew that was fairly close," said Chief Dean. "They were out of the truck. They were all knocked to the ground. We had one with a bump on the head. They were taken to the hospital but were released."
According to a preliminary report by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, 2,000 gallons of petroleum product was in the barge. When it caught fire, the fire spread to a second barge.
Chief Dean said his crews made the decision to pull back quickly after the second blast - a decision he said that likely saved lives.
"It was time to just say, 'Yeah, let it burn.' It's vaporizing, it's burning," said Dean. "If we put it out, it's going to lie down close to the water or get on the ground and seek another ignition source."
Local and state environmental officials said they are now concerned, though, for the structural integrity of surrounding chemical tanks, underwater pipes, and chemical containers following the seven explosions that happened as a result.
The exact cause of the blaze remains under investigation by ADEM, the U.S. Coast Guard, Mobile Fire-Rescue and OSHA, among other agencies.
Chief Dean said the barges were fairly new and were owned by a private company; Kirby Inland Marine.
"I mean it burned for four and a half, five hours. So I mean it wasn't just vapors in there, there had to be something some type of source fuel source for it to burn that long, that rapidly," he said.
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