New Cuyama, CA Gas Vapor Explosion, Sep 1977


New Cuyama (AP) - A moving van that drove through a vapor cloud leaking from a natural gas line sparked an explosion and raging fire Monday, critically burning one man and killing his brother, authorities said.
Flames towered 500 feet in the air as Arco crewmen worked to cap the pipelines that led from a compression plant. Three nearby ranches in northeast Santa Barbara County were evacuated as flames destroyed the moving van and engulfed a perimeter extending 400 feet from the pipes.
"It's a fireball and so far we can't even get near it. It's just too hot," said Santa Barbara County Fire Battalion Chief Don Perry.
Firemen quickly contained the blaze in the 400-feet perimeter and the compression plant was never
in danger, Perry said.
Arco public relations spokesman Manny Jimenez said crewmen had turned off valves at either end of the pipe to cut off the fire's fuel supply.
"It'll just have to burn itself out," he said. "There's some gas in the line. We've isolated it and we're trying to isolate a more to expedite stopping the fire."
ROBERT KATES, 32, of Orcutt, died at San Luis Obispo County General Hospital burn center from second and third degree burns over 90 percent of his body, nursing supervisor Pat Martin said.
KATES'S 30 year old brother, ROBERT, also of Orcutt was flown to the burn center at Sherman Oaks Community Hospital in critical condition after first being admitted at West Side Hospital in Taft with similar burns, nurses at the burn center said.
There were no other injuries, said Jimenez, adding that an investigation into the cause of the leak couldn't begin until after the fire was extinguished.
The moving van's engine apparently ignited the gas as the KATES brothers drove through the invisible vapor cloud on California 166, Perry said. State highway officials diverted traffic on the highway, the main route from Bakersfield to Santa Maria.
The pipes, laid in 1951, carried unrefined and highly volatile "wet"
natural gas to a processing plant in Bakersfield where the fuel is converted to "dry gas" for distribution, Jimenez said.

Independent Long Beach California 1977-09-06