Ruptured Gas Pipeline Leads to Spectacular Fire On D&R Canal; Cause is Still Under Investigation

The Princeton Packet

5 February, 1986 (~estimated)

Ruptured Gas Pipeline Leads to Spectacular Fire On D&R Canal; Cause is Still Under Investigation

State and local investigators are still trying to determine what caused a gasoline pipeline to split Friday afternoon, spilling liquid gas onto the nearby Delaware Raritan Canal. The gasoline ignited Friday night with a tremendous explosion.

Four families who had been evacuated from Canal Road as a result of the fire and housed in the Hyatt Regency Hotel were allowed to return to their homes on Tuesday.

There were no injuries in the spectacular fire, which some onlookers likened to scenes from “Apocalypse Now,” and state environmental officials said that drinking water supplies in the area had not been contaminated. However, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection said this week that the agency was not going to allow any water to leave the area until it is absolutely certain there is no gasoline left.

At first, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of gasoline were believed to have gushed from the 14-inch Sun Pipeline Company pipeline which carries gasoline from Marcus Hook to Newark, but Lt. Gregory Eldridge of the West Windsor Police Department said this week those figures could not be confirmed. An accurate estimate, he said, would be made once the pipeline is emptied.

A two-foot split in the pipe was first observed around 3:15 Friday afternoon. Emergency workers from surrounding communities and officials of the pipeline company converged on the scene and tried to contain the spill which was flooding the frozen canal with gasoline measuring up to three inches in depth.

The pipeline was shut down and emergency booms had been placed across the Canal at Alexander Road and 100 feet south.

At 8 p.m., the river of gasoline exploded, creating a 1,200-foot river of fire. The Mercer County Marshall said Monday that it is believed that gas fumes from the ruptured line had seeped into vents in a 10-foot concrete block pumping station owned by the Elizabethtown Water Company, and an electric heater suspended from the ceiling touched off the explosion. The wooden roof of the pump house was destroyed by flames.

James Staples of the N.J Department of Environmental Protection stated the explosion and fire caused only minimal damage to the environment, but hundreds of trees lining the canal are believed to have been charred.

Cleanup crews worked during the weekend and Monday to siphon gas from the canal and out of a six and half-mile length of damaged pipeline. The 15 by 20-foot section of pipe where the rupture occurred had been replaced by Monday.

Captain Jack Petrone reported that Township police on the Princeton side of the canal and West Windsor police on the opposite side had stationed police security around the clock since Friday night until 4 p.m. Monday to keep the area closed to spectators and joggers.

Lt. Eldrige commented that police do not suspect any foul play in the rupture of the pipeline, but added, “Obviously, there are a lot of questions to be answered.” Police, he said, are investigating a number of possibilities.

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