Firefighters work to douse deadly Castaic gas well fire

CASTAIC, Calif. -- Members of a Texas firefighting crew were working Sunday to douse an oil well fire that killed one person and critically injured another.

"The fire is significantly under control, and we're looking to have it out completely by Tuesday," said Capt. Brian Jordan, of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The explosion Saturday morning was felt for miles and sent flames soaring 200 feet into the air. Flames were still visible Sunday, but were less than 10 feet high, Jordan said.

Boots and Coots International Well Control, which extinguished burning wells in Kuwait during the Gulf War, were called into fight the fire because conventional firefighting techniques were deemed to risky, Jordan said.

"If we do it wrong, we could have another explosion," Jordan said. "The well cannot be capped because it is natural, coming out of the ground."

Firefighters will have to cut the oil derrick in half with welders, then remove it before they can begin to cap or seal the well, Jordan said.

The body of a 43-year-old man, who had been reported missing after the 2 a.m. explosion, was found behind an oil rig near the well late Saturday, Jordan said.

The man's identity was withheld pending a check of dental records, Lt. Fred Corral, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Coroner's office, said Sunday.

Delton Russin, 35, of Bakersfield, suffered burns to his face and upper body. He was listed in critical but stable condition at Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Lisa Barry said.

Both men worked for CAZA Drilling Inc., a drilling contractor in Denver that has a fleet of 46 rigs.

Authorities said it was unclear what caused the explosion, which is being investigated by Cal-OSHA, the state Division of Oil and Gas and the Sheriff's Department.

Two methane gas explosions and an oil leak occurred at the well in a rugged canyon area 40 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. About 75 firefighters were dispatched to fight the blaze, which was not considered an environmental hazard, Jordan said.

Doug Miller, 23, of Castaic, said he and a friend were about two miles away and felt the shock wave from the blast, then saw what looked like a 150- to 200-foot blowtorch shooting into the sky.

"It felt like a bomb," he said. "I thought a big propane tank at a nearby trailer park had exploded. It was 10 times louder than a sonic boom."


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