Pipeline memories: Explosion inspired artist who saw 'malevolent fire-breathing monster'

"Fragile Status Quo," a painting of the pipeline explosion by Michael Alonzo Kominsky.
"Fragile Status Quo," a painting of the pipeline explosion by Michael Alonzo Kominsky. COURTESY IMAGE

Bellingham artist Michael Kominsky painted "Fragile Status Quo" after seeing the pipeline explosion June, 10, 1999.

This is his story:

Everyone in Bellingham remembers where they were on that lazy, Bellingham-beautiful summer evening of June 10, 1999.

On that fateful day, I was working in my studio in the Geneva area, about a mile from Whatcom Falls Park, when an explosion literally rocked my world.

What could possibly cause such a violent shaking of the earth? The Big ONE?

Of course, like many others, I was compelled to immediately run outside. That's when I saw IT: a malevolent fire-breathing monster, the shape of IT formed by a billowing black plume of smoke, growing menacingly in size and intensity ... spitting orange flames from its nostrils, ominously staring down on its handiwork far below.

At the time, I had absolutely no idea of the cause or origin. My first impression was, because of the magnitude and the obvious involvement of some kind of petroleum accelerant, perhaps it was the aftermath of a commercial jet crash. But a gas-filled time-bomb-pipeline? Impossible you say? Out of the realm of possibility? ...

Without a clue about what I could hope to accomplish, I blithely jumped in my car and drove toward the plume. When I arrived at the entrance of Whatcom Falls Park, the smoke and intense heat of the blast almost overwhelmed me. I still had no idea of the cause, but raw fear quickly overcame morbid curiosity and, I must confess, rapidly disabused me of any notions of heroism.

I then drove up to the highest viewpoint I could find, which was Alabama Hill. Looking down on an obviously major catastrophic event violated my senses - an inseparable mélange of fear, anger and sadness - searing into my very being, an unprecedented sense of vulnerability to the vagaries of life; a loss of innocence. Our Bellingham would never quite be the same again.

I would not experience that sense of violation again until September 11, 2001.

This painting, "Fragile Status Quo," which was completed several days after the explosion, is an elegy; an expression of my personal grief for the innocent, unfinished lives lost, and the mayhem inflicted on a beautiful, very special place.

The only positive legacy I can remotely muster is that this tragedy must serve as an unwavering parable of man's infinite capacity for self-destruction, and the need for constant vigilance by all of us to prevent this kind of irresponsible stewardship from ever happening again ... here or anywhere else.