Fire at Oklahoma natural gas facility prompts evacuations

Fire at Oklahoma natural gas facility prompts evacuations
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A fire Saturday at an Oklahoma facility that handles natural gas prompted mandatory evacuations for a wide swath of homes and businesses near the Medford plant.

An unconfirmed explosion was reported at the plant, about 85 miles south of Wichita, Kansas, but it wasn’t clear if it had triggered the blaze, resulted from it, or was an exaggeration.

Brad Borror, spokesperson for ONEOK, operator of the facility, said by email that all the company’s personnel there had been accounted for, and no injuries were reported.

ONEOK described the possible origin of the fire, which raged throughout the afternoon and into the early evening, as an “incident.” The location was described by the company as a “natural gas liquids fractionation facility.”

Fractionation is the process by which components of natural gas are generally turned into retail products such as ethane, propane, butane and natural gas for homes and vehicles. Collectively these hydrocarbon configurations are known as natural gas liquids or NGLs.

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“We are cooperating with local emergency responders and appreciate their quick response,” Borror said. “Our focus continues working with emergency responders to extinguish the fire and the safety of the surrounding community and our employees.”

The exact time of the start of the fire was not available. Grant County Emergency Management leaders were en route to the scene and could not provide immediate information, an official said by phone.

Video of the blaze verified by NBC News depicted a raging, centralized fire at the facility with a plume of black smoke rising and then angling away with the wind.

Those remaining within two miles of the plant must evacuate, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office said earlier in the day. The city of Medford said evacuees were welcome at a number of locations, including a church, a school, and a hotel. A fire department station was no longer available for those needing shelter, Medford officials said.

The city called mandatory evacuations in the area “urgent.” “No timetable for returning is available at this time,” it said in a post on Facebook that has since been edited.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said US-81 was shut down near the plant, according to NBC affiliate KFOR of Oklahoma City.

Michelle Acevedo and Rania Soetirto contributed.

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