An early morning fire all but destroyed a maintenance garage in White Township owned by the oil and gas service enterprise Northeast Energy Drilling.
Crews were called out at 5:16 a.m. today, first for reports of an automatic fire alarm in the shop area of the building along South Sixth Street in White Township, near the intersection of Route 954 and Lucerne Road.
While two fire companies were en route, dispatchers updated reports from an alarm to a structure fire, according to Indiana fire chief Chuck Kelly.
“We got on scene and had heavy black smoke coming out of every nook and cranny you could see,” Kelly said.
The smoke was all they saw at first, he said, but then, flames suddenly broke through the roof.
Several explosions followed, likely caused, Kelly said, by acetylene and oxygen tanks used in the shop.
The fire was extinguished before 7 a.m., but the building was gutted. The cause of the fire was unknown as of this morning.
In addition to a fire hydrant in the area, firefighters drew water from a nearby pond along Route 954. According to Kelly, about 3,000 feet of hose was laid out. Tankers filled with water were drained by the time the fire was extinguished.
“Two engines out of five are completely empty now,” he said.
Firefighters continued to douse what remained of the building with water as a precaution. At the same time, responders used excavating equipment to pull away seared metal walls from the ruins.
“I don’t want to keep coming back,” Kelly said.
He had no word immediately on a damage estimate, but described it as “significant.”
No injuries were reported. The building was unoccupied when the fire started. Several vehicles inside it were lost.
Employees of the Northeast garage stood at the scene. Several said they had heard about the fire while driving into work.
State police and the state fire marshal were notified and will be investigating, Kelly said.
The Northeast Energy fire is the third significant fire in the area in the past 10 days.
Just before 3 a.m. Dec. 14 a fire destroyed apartment buildings owned by Rob Smith near the old Smith Concrete site on Old Route 119 in Center Township.
Five days later, Accent Fuels’ office and warehouse building on West Indiana Street in Homer City was a total loss after an early morning blaze ripped through the 17,000-square-foot building. Investigations into those fires continue.
This morning, volunteer fire departments from Indiana, Homer City, Coral-Graceton, Clymer and Cherryhill Township responded to the alarm at 5:16 a.m. Indiana County’s hazardous materials response team and the Marion Center fire department were called a few minutes later.
Tom Stutzman, director of Indiana County’s Emergency Management Agency, said hazmat crews placed absorbent booms in some areas to keep grease, oil and other contaminants from flowing away from the burning maintenance shop with the water.
Due to the fire, Route 954 remained closed this morning in both directions from Lucerne Road/Ferguson Road and Metz Road, with drivers being detoured to Route 56 and Route 119. The road is expected to reopen later today.
According to Northeast Energy’s website, the company’s headquarters near Indiana serves as a central hub, allowing the company to provide its services to both the Marcellus Shale Play, which extends from the Appalachian Basin states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia to New York state, and the Utica Shale Play, which extends eastward from Ohio and includes parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.
Northeast Energy has more than 15 years of experience in conventional and vertical shallow gas well drilling. The company offers expertise in four main areas: drilling, excavating, trucking/hauling and well servicing.
Northeast Energy was formed in 1987 as a spin-off of the parent company Interstate Gas Marketing, a production and exploration company of natural gas and oil in the northern Appalachian region.
In the 1990s, the company expanded its operations to include more specialized equipment and experienced crew members with expertise in deeper vertical and horizontal drilling applications. Northeast Energy expanded to drill deeper and horizontal coal bed methane wells before expanding again in being what the website claims is the air drilling experts in Marcellus shale formation wells.
The company provides comprehensive, turnkey solutions to small, mid-size and large gas/oil companies throughout the Marcellus and Utica shale plays.