A gasoline spill Monday in Whatcom Falls Park, near the site of the deadly 1999 fuel pipeline explosion and fire, caused some concern among Bellingham firefighters and pipeline company officials, but no leak was found.
“Our best guess is that somebody either accidentally or intentionally introduced some gas into the storm drain,” said Assistant Chief Bill Hewett of the Bellingham Fire Department.
Nevertheless, pipeline operators temporarily stopped fuel in a line that runs through the popular park and sent a worker to investigate, Hewett said. He said BP operates the line for Olympic Pipe Line Co.
“They saw nothing to show that they were losing pressure,” Hewett said.
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Hewett said the crews of two engine companies and a battalion chief were sent to investigate when 911 callers reported a strong odor of gasoline about 12:30 p.m. Monday in Whatcom Falls Park. Focus of the odor was along Iowa Drive near Eerie and St. Clair streets on the north side of the park.
“They found an odor of gas and a sheen in a small tributary that leads to Whatcom Creek,” Hewett said. “They did not find any trace of fuel in Whatcom Creek.”
John Stark, a former reporter for The Bellingham Herald, was in the park Monday with a friend and noticed the odor downwind from the pipeline.
“Just a few paces upstream from the pipeline I am getting a very strong gasoline smell,” Stark said in a social media message. Stark added he saw Bellingham firefighters, Public Works and pipeline officials examining a storm drain.
Hewett said officials at the scene used gas monitors to determine there was no threat of explosion and that a public works crew would finish a cleanup. He said firefighters checked storm drains and houses for potential problems.
Eric Johnston, assistant director of public works operations, said that fuel leaking into a storm drain wasn’t uncommon, and that workers typically flush the drain with water or vacuum debris from the storm vault. Sometimes absorbent pads are used, he said.
Whatcom Falls Park is Bellingham’s most iconic green space, a 241-acre wooded site east of downtown, known for its picturesque cascades, a 1930s-era stone footbridge and 5.5 miles of hiking trails.
In 1999, three people died when nearly 300,000 gallons of fuel leaked from a petroleum pipeline that runs under the park. The fuel ignited in a massive fireball that burned a large portion of the wetlands along Whatcom Creek.