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By CINDY SIMPSON
A Texas team finally extinguished an oil-well fire that evacuated a community near Oliver Springs and burned for nearly a week.
But anger still burns among residents who, as they prepare to return home, feel they were put in danger.
On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Anderson County officials met with residnts in the fellowship hall of a local church.
“Somebody dropped the ball,” said Mitch Powers, a resident of Cove Lane, the community where the well exploded into flames on March 19.
One man was seriously injured when the fire erupted as he was driving by. Jonathan Vann of Morgan County was treated at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, but officials say he has been released.
Powers said that could have been him.
“Someone should have prevented me from going out. I could have just as easily ignited a flame as easily as someone else,” he said. Powers said nobody stopped him as he drove through on March 18, when a large zone of natural gas apparently forced a blowout. The well spewed natural gas and oil all night until it blew early the next morning.
“No one ever said a word to me about the risk factor,” Powers said.
John Daugherty, another resident of “The Cove,” as the community is called, said he would have appreciated emergency personnel telling him the leak could be dangerous.
“I might have considered leaving,” he said.
Anderson County Sheriff Paul White said he relied on workers at the well who told his office the situation was being taken care of.
But he said Cove residents, not oil workers, were the ones who alerted the office to the situation.
“They said they would cap it in a short time,” White said of the oil operators.
White said his men were told to keep out traffic that did not belong in the area.
White said his officers left the area a little before 6 p.m. on March 18 — about 12 hours before the explosion.
Anderson County Emergency Management Director Steve Payne said that he got on the scene around 3 p.m. March 18 and saw water runoff coming down the mountain.
He said officials began putting absorbent booms in the creek to collect oil that might run off.
Payne said most residents had returned to their homes Monday but some remained displaced.
“Some people’s children have asthma and are concerned about bringing their children back when the fire is still going,” he said.
Wild Well Control, a Houston company that has worked on oil-well blazes as far away as the Mideast, extinguished the fire around 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Damage to homes is being assessed.
One resident reported that a trailer had melted siding.
A slab house that was close to the well when the initial boom happened may have structural damage as well, residents said.
Chuck Eger, an official with EPA, reported on Wild Well’s efforts Monday.
He said the company cut away the rig and used water cannons pointed and a special metal pipe to divert the flames.
Wild Well Control was using a special kind of mud to plug the well, Eger said.
Eger said the crew will put a new blowout preventer in place to stop escaping emissions.
The EPA’s on-site coordinator, Perry Gaughan, said air quality was not a major concern.
“I personally think tire fires are a lot more toxic,” he said.
With the water samples, Gaughan said there is a slight sheen on the water.
Sampling of soil that was contaminated would be the responsibility of the well owners, he said.
Gaughan said the EPA, the Tennessee Department of Conservation and other state agencies would be overseeing that process.
“The owner of the property is going to be responsible for the remediation of this property,” Gaughan said.
Concern over a bridge that crosses over the creek was also addressed.
Anderson County Road Superintendent Gary Long said both he and the state have done a visual inspection of the bridge and it will not be condemned, as some residents had speculated.