CARLSBAD, N.M. - An underground natural gas pipeline exploded and sent a giant ball of flames into the air Saturday, killing six people who had been camping nearby. Six other campers were in critical condition.
The victims were four children and two adults, said state police Capt. John Balderston. They were members of at least two families who were camping along the Pecos River about 200 to 300 yards from where the explosion occurred, he said.
Balderston said the cause of the blast was not known, but he speculated the 30-inch pipeline, 3 feet underground, had ruptured.
He said the fire was visible from Carlsbad, 20 miles away in southeastern New Mexico.
''We saw a large ball of flames,'' he said. ''The fire department was able to find six people in the river, walking west of the incident.''
The six injured were taken to a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, about 160 miles from Carlsbad.
''All are in very critical condition and are being closely guarded. It's going to be nip and tuck for the next 24 hours,'' spokeswoman Kim Davis said. ''It's very grave.''
Davis said a 5-year-old girl suffered the worst injuries, with burns on 75 to 80 percent of her body. The other survivors were three females and two males.
El Paso Natural Gas Co. spokeswoman Norma Dunn said the explosion could have been ignited by anything from a spark from striking rocks to someone lighting a cigarette or coal for a barbecue.
Gas from the pipeline goes to customers in Texas, New Mexico and California, she said.