Cause of tank farm explosion that injured 1 under investigation

Worker with Gulf Coast Acquisitions suffered serious burns


The investigation continues into the cause of a tank farm explosion and fire in Karnes County that left a worker suffering from serious burns.

People who live near the site, located on Highway 80 near FM 119 in Gillett, began calling the Karnes County Sheriff's Office before 5 a.m. Tuesday.

"We heard a boom and didn't know exactly what it was. We got out and looked around," said Bobby Piprzica, a resident and president of the Gillett Volunteer Fire Department. "It was a lot of fire and a lot of smoke, and then there were some small explosions after that where the tanks were catching on fire," he said.

Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva said his deputies were among the first to arrive at the scene.

One of them used a cell phone to capture images of the fire, and caught a secondary explosion on video.

"It was a total of nine tanks on fire and two open tanks," Villanueva said. "It's containing oil and salt water."

The contents of the tanks, Villanueva said, was wastewater from fracking operations going on in the area.

The fracking process often involves pumping salt water into the ground to force out natural gas.

The wastewater from it can contain oil and other chemicals.

Villanueva said the tank farm is far enough away from any residences, so the situation did not present a danger to people in the area.

A worker on that property, however, suffered second- and third-degree burns.

The 38-year-old man, whose name was not released Tuesday morning, was flown to San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio for treatment.

Firefighters, meanwhile, had to stand back for a while out of fear for their own safety.

"They didn't want to get too close, you know, because of the explosions," Villanueva said. "They didn't want anybody else to get injured."

About three and a half hours after it began, firefighters had gained control of the fire.

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