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Experts Gaining Ground Against Oil-Rig Inferno

Man who died Saturday as the Castaic fire erupted is identified by officials as a 43-year-old oilfield veteran from Bakersfield.

November 19, 2002|Michael Krikorian and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Texas firefighting experts said Monday that they expect to have a deadly Castaic oil-rig fire controlled today, three days after an underground explosion ignited the inferno, killing one man and critically injuring another.

Officials identified the victim of Saturday's blast as 43-year-old Joe Currington of Bakersfield, a veteran oilfield worker who was married and had three children.

His colleague, Delton Rosson, 35, also of Bakersfield, remains at the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital in critical but stable condition.

A four-member crew employed by Caza Drilling Co. was pulling a drill bit out of a well Saturday when a plume of natural gas exploded, toppling a 100-foot-high derrick that melted in the blaze, authorities said. At the time of the 2 a.m. explosion, Currington was standing on a 60-foot-high platform on the rig.

"The gases blew upward and there may have been a spark from the drill bit that ignited the gas," said Susan Gard, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

She said Cal/OSHA has launched an investigation of the accident that will involve interviewing witnesses, examining equipment, and studying employee training procedures and maintenance records. But Gard said the agency's findings would not be available for at least three months.

"We are in the very preliminary stages of the investigation and are looking into any violations of health and safety standards," Gard said.

Because Currington was killed, Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives investigated the incident to determine whether criminal actions contributed to the blast. "This was just a tragic accident," said sheriff's Det. Steve Davis. "The victim was probably in a tower above the drilling apparatus and never knew what hit him."

By Monday, the natural-gas-fed fire, which had sent flames shooting 200 feet into the air, was largely contained.

"They'll get it under control and closed Tuesday," said Raymond Henry, senior specialist for Boots and Coots International Well Control based in Houston. "It's already considerably smaller."

Henry said firefighters' first concern was to rid the burn area of any potential fuel sources that might touch off another explosion.

"The first thing you want to do is clear away all the hot metal and the debris that could ignite," said Henry. "As long as the fire is burning, it eliminates chances of explosions or flash fires."

Meanwhile, a memorial fund has been set up for Currington at the Bank of Stockdale in Bakersfield.

"We are trying to take care of the family," said Gard, adding that trauma counselors were being made available to oil-rig employees and to families of the victims.

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