Do you remember what you were doing a little after 5:00 on June 10th, 1999?
In Bellingham on this day in 1999 237,000 gallons of gasoline that had been silently leaking into Whatcom Creek from a ruptured underground pipeline were ignited by two 10 year old boys that were playing with a lighter by the creek.
The fumes had gotten strong and authorities had started evacuating the creek and surrounding park area by the time the explosion occurred.
I was on my way home after a dentist appointment. I do not recall hearing the boom, but the cloud in the sky was massive and scary. I realized it was over in the area of my work, so I actually started to drive towards the chaos. I didn’t get far. Traffic was at a standstill as people rushed away from the scene and/or paused to take it all in.
The explosion happened across the street from my place of employment. I heard many tales of how scary it was to feel such a boom, and be surrounded by so much smoke.
In the time following the explosion the smoke would clear, and most of us resumed our normal lives as we watched the area along the creek slowly come back to life.
The Olympic Pipeline Company and its owners would pay out 187 million dollars in fines and settlements, and for the first time ever pipeline company employees went to jail because of their unsafe practices.
10 years later, I don’t find myself thinking about this tragedy on a daily basis. But the beautiful park and creek as well as the newly opened Wade King Elementary School serve as permanent reminders of this devastating day.