Pipeline memories: Firefighter recalls how fire quickly went from bad to worse

Fred Wefer is assistant chief of the South Whatcom Fire District. He worked with the Whatcom County Hazardous Materials Unit on June 10, 1999, when a pipeline ruptured and exploded in Bellingham's Whatcom Falls Park.

Here is his story, in his own words:

We had just arrived with our Hazmat Unit and were setting up a command post on Woburn when I noticed black smoke to the east of our location. I remember commenting to Mike Leigh (Fire Chief for the city at the time) that we now had a house fire to deal with, not just the spill.

Within seconds, we realized what was going on and hit the ground. We saw ... the explosions starting and they were coming down the creek at us. There were at least 10 or 15 different explosions. We were at the end of the bridge at Iowa and Woburn street.

Once we realized we were still alive, I looked up and saw this fireball about two hundred feet over our heads. I said a prayer and made sure everyone was ok. They were, so we got up and went to work dealing with the task at hand. We still at that time had no idea of the size or what we were dealing with.

We all felt very lucky to be alive.