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Gillette fire

A fire at an oilfield site north of Gillette on Wednesday closed Wyoming Highway 59.

A 36-year-old Gillette man died following an explosion and fire Wednesday at an oil field site near Gillette, county officials confirmed Thursday morning.

Beau Damori’s family was notified before the Campbell County Coroner’s office released his name to the Star-Tribune.

Three employees were working on site at the time of the fire, including Damori. The other two workers escaped without injury, said Chief Deputy Coroner Steve Rosier.

It is unclear what caused the initial combustion and subsequent explosions at the oil storage and water processing facility.

The site lies about a half mile from Wyoming Highway 59 north of Gillette. The blaze involved 10 large oil tanks, two passenger vehicles, two semitrucks, three buildings, two full 1,700-gallon propane tanks and brush and grass near the site, according to Fire Warden Dale Izatt.

An area rancher called in the fire about 2 p.m. Wednesday. A medical helicopter was called to the scene as a matter of protocol after the explosion was reported.

Firefighters were initially delayed approximately one hour in approaching the fire due to the risk of further explosions from propane tanks, officials said. Those tanks did not blow but did begin venting, Izatt said.

County coroners arrived on scene at approximately 5 p.m. but were held back from recovering the body for at least an hour, according to Rosier.

“By the time we got there the place had been fully engulfed,” he said. “I believe they realized they were missing a person, but it took a while to fight the fire and get in.”

Sixteen firefighters and two command officers extinguished the fire by 1 a.m. Thursday, Izatt said.

The explosion led to the closure of the highway, which has since reopened.

Investigation begins

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration division began its investigation Thursday morning, sending two investigators to the scene. Campbell County Sheriff Scott Matheny said the investigation was handed over without reservation as nothing criminal appeared to have taken place in the incident.

It will take investigators up to six months to complete a report on the incident that caused Damori’s death. Those details will be shared with the family before they are made public.

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“In the coming days, I imagine we’ll know quite a bit more,” said Jason Wolfe, who overseas the state OSHA program at the Department of Workforce Services.

Though plumes were visible from Gillette late Wednesday, officials were not initially concerned about air hazards to the public. The site is in a rural area and the smoke plumes were moving in a direction away from the nearest homes, Izatt said. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality will have a spill coordinator on the scene next week to assess the potential environmental impact in conjunction with state oil and gas regulators.

The site is owned and operated by Tisdale Creek Ranch Inc., a Gillette-based water hauling and waste water disposal firm. The company declined to comment for this story.

Four years have passed since an oil and gas worker died in a fire or explosion on the job, according to the Department of Workforce Services. A 35-year-old man died in a 2014 explosion while cleaning a natural gas storage tank. That same year, a 52-year-old welder died in an explosion while working on an oil reclamation tank, according to state records. In total, 37 people died on the job in 2014, the highest number in the last decade, according to the Department of Workforce Services.

Wyoming is often ranked high in the country for workplace deaths, in part due to the percentage of the workforce employed in high-risk industries, from oil and gas to agriculture.

But, the families of killed workers and workers rights groups perennially draw attention to ways Wyoming’s laws could be strengthened. A bill increasing penalties for company safety violations failed in 2015 after the family of slain worker Brett Collins lobbied for change.

Wyoming’s state-run OSHA program is authorized to levy fines against the oil company for any safety violations investigators may find surrounding Damori’s death. Those fines will be determined by the type of violation, if any, investigators find. Fines can be reduced if the company successfully protests the state’s decision.

“Frankly, there’s not a price you can put on a loss of life,” said Wolfe of Workforce Services. “The violations, while probably fairly steep, don’t equate to what any family member would (see) as fair for the loss of a loved one.”

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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