HOWARD COUNTY, TX (KWES) - Lightning sparked three tank battery fires Friday afternoon - two in Howard County and one in Glasscock County - and left firefighters on high alert for hours while they evaluated re-ignition risks and prepared for additional weather-related emergencies, officials said.
Flames were extinguished without incident and no injuries were reported at the three locations, authorities confirmed.
The first blaze broke out around 1 p.m. at an oilfield site on Highway 176, approximately four miles west of Interstate 20, after lightning struck a tank battery, according to Howard County Volunteer Fire Chief Tommy Sullivan.
The second one ignited on Ranch Road 33 in Glasscock County. Crews later rushed to a third on East Howard Field Road.
The blaze on Highway 176 caused a chemical reaction within the bottom portion of the tank, Sullivan said, and led to a booming explosion heard miles away.
"Usually, [fire-caused explosions] blow the tops off of them," he explained. "This one failed on the bottom, which makes that tank like a 'hydro-rocket.'"
The force of the resulting blast was exacerbated by high pressure and heat, the fire chief added. Surrounding equipment and a nearby mailbox were also blown apart and flung through the air.
Workers were on site during the incident, according to Sullivan, but all escaped unharmed.
The company operating the oilfield site could not be reached for comment.
Sullivan, who estimated he had responded to "600 or 700" tank battery fires during his 32-year career, said the region faces an unusually dangerous fire season this year.
Howard County firefighters respond to an average of 11 tank battery or oilfield fires annually, he said; Friday's two blazes within county lines brought this year's total to 30.
"I'd say 98 percent of the tank battery fires I've seen are caused by lightning," said Sullivan. "No matter what precautions you take, it's going to light something somewhere [on fire]."
He emphasized the importance of adhering to county-wide burn ban restrictions in order to reduce the "human factor" in the growing danger zone.