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Bellingham pipeline explosion
The June 10, 1999, Olympic pipeline explosion killed three people in Whatcom Falls Park. The tragedy scarred Bellingham, but increased pipeline safety nationwide. Here’s a look back at The Bellingham Herald’s coverage.
JUNE 10, 1999
3:10 p.m. - Olympic Pipe Line Co. controller notices error in computer logs monitoring valves and gasoline flow but double-checks and thinks everything is fine. Something else is causing the problems, the worker thinks.
3:17 p.m. - Gasoline is being delivered from Cherry Point pumping station to Tosco storage facility near Renton. Controllers start the process to switch gasoline delivery to ARCO Harbor Island terminal in Seattle.
3:18 p.m. - As operators start the transfer, pressure builds in the pipeline upstream from the delivery point, which is considered normal. Controllers start a back-up pump at Woodinville to relieve the pressure, but the transfer fails, sounding alarms and creating unresponsive computers.
3:22 p.m. - Pumps start shutting down due to high pressure in the pipeline.
3:28 p.m. - A 16-inch pipeline ruptures under Whatcom Falls Park and releases about 237,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline into Whatcom Creek, unknown to anyone.
3:29 p.m. - Pressure drops in the pipeline to normal levels, but the pipeline shuts itself down between Cherry Point and Renton.
3:35 p.m. - Gasoline transfer from Cherry Point is suspended. Crews examine problems.
4:16 p.m. - Gasoline transfer from Cherry Point is restarted.
4:24 p.m. - A woman driving across Woburn Street bridge at Whatcom Creek calls 911 saying she smells an "incredible odor that made breathing difficult."
4:27 p.m. - A resident living near Whatcom Creek calls 911 about a strong petroleum odor and creek discoloration.
4:29 p.m. - Leak detection software at the Olympic Pipe Line control center in Renton issues an alarm.
4:30 p.m. - Instructions are given to start another pump in Ferndale. An Olympic Pipe Line employee calls 911 from the Woburn Street bridge, reporting gasoline fumes. He then calls the Olympic Pipe Line control room in Renton to notify them of situation.
4:31 p.m. - The pump in Ferndale starts.
4:32 p.m. - Olympic Pipe Line controllers begin closing valves to isolate the rupture.
4:33 p.m. - Police and fire crews begin closing roads around the creek and call in a hazardous materials team to investigate.
4:34 p.m. - Pipeline valves closed.
4:46 p.m. - A 911 dispatcher calls the Olympic Pipe Line emergency number and is informed they know about the situation, the pipeline is shut down and that employees are at the Whatcom Creek Fish Hatchery. Radio stations start broadcasting emergency messages, urging people to stay away from the creek.
4:55 p.m. - Evacuations start for areas within 200 feet of the creek.
4:57 p.m. - Olympic Pipe Line controllers call 911 dispatch to report a "possible release of product into Whatcom Creek."
5:02 p.m. - Boom! The gas ignites on Whatcom Creek, with a fireball roaring about 1.5 miles downstream toward downtown Bellingham. The Whatcom County disaster plan is implemented, with the emergency operations center opening and evacuations continuing.
5:20 p.m. - St. Joseph Hospital is notified and staff prepares to receive a large number of patients. Calls are made to Harborview Medical Center Burn Center in Seattle.
5:30 p.m. - St. Joseph Hospital receives notification that two 10-year-old burn patients are being transported. The Bellingham Mountain Search and Rescue team arrives on scene and starts search of Whatcom Falls Park and Whatcom Creek.
5:40 p.m. - Wade King and Stephen Tsiorvas, both 10 years old, arrive at St. Joseph Hospital with severe burns.
About 6 p.m. - Whatcom Creek stops burning, but brush fires continue.
6:25 p.m. - Wade and Stephen are airlifted to Harborview Medical Center.
9 p.m. - Whatcom County Search and Rescue volunteers find the body of 18-year-old Liam Wood in Whatcom Creek.
10 p.m. - State Fish and Wildlife Department workers wade through the 85-degree-creek counting hundreds of dead fish, frogs, crawfish and other species.
Wade and Stephen die from their burns. Fish and Wildlife workers continue to examine the creek, finding no living animals in the burn zone. Fire crews continue to battle spot fires burning in trees along the creek, which still has gasoline visible on the surface.
Fire crews continue to battle spot fires while investigators begin to piece together what happened before, during and after the explosion.
Liam Wood's memorial service is held at Boulevard Park. Whatcom Falls Park remains closed as crews soak up gas from the creek and excavate areas near the pipeline.
Wade King's funeral is held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Fire crews use foam to put out last fire in the water treatment plant near the rupture. In all, about 25 acres burned.
Stephen Tsiorvas' funeral is held at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church.