DIXON, Ill. -- Farm workers attempting to free a tractor laying field tile inadvertently struck a buried natural gas pipeline, causing a massive explosion that killed two and injured two others the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 5.
The pipeline explosion happened around 9 a.m Tuesday on a farm near the intersection of Franklin Grove Road and Route 38 in rural Lee County, between Dixon and Rochelle.
Authorities are not releasing the names of the deceased or injured, pending notification of family. The two injured workers were transported to a nearby hospital for treatment, then subsequently transferred to a trauma center in Rockford. Lee County Sheriff John Simonton said one of the injured men is in critical but stable condition and the second is listed in stable condition.
The pipeline that was struck is owned by energy company Kinder Morgan. Officials from the company are on the scene and assisting the investigation. Kinder Morgan has a pair of pipelines in the area, said spokesman Dee Bennett. The one that was struck is a 20-inch, cross-country transmission pipe. Those are typically buried 4 to 5 feet underground.
"Unfortunately, a required one call notification was not provided to the company prior to the work being performed," read a statement from Kinder Morgan.
A witness, Nathan Hummel, told WQAD News 8 that firefighters started showing up to the area around 9 a.m. and that he could feel the heat about a quarter-mile away.
Hummel said his home is about a mile away from the blaze (as the crow flies).
"I can see the flames from my house... we took off to go find out what was going on," Hummel said. "I thought it was next door because of how big it was."
Hummel described seeing black smoke and flames that were shooting about 150 feet into the air. He said he saw what looked like two burned-up tractors and a pickup truck on fire.
During a mid-afternoon press conference on Tuesday, Dixon Fire Chief Tim Shipman said the fire scene was brought under control around 1:15 p.m. Kinder Morgan officials assisted by cutting off the fuel supply and helping to extinguish the fire.
Shipman said heavy winds during the day actually helped keep the fire away from nearby residences. Although roads near the area were closed as a precaution, no additional residential evacuations were necessary.
The National Transportation Safety Board was notified and will be assisting in the ongoing investigation.