By Jason Allen

ELLIS COUNTY (CBS 11 NEWS) – Some 700 Milford residents are away from home tonight. The entire town was evacuated after workers punctured a gas pipeline — causing a huge explosion. After 12 hours the fire still burns.

Chevron area manager Jim Barnum apologized Thursday night to residents of Milford, while praising local officials for quickly evacuating the area.

It is not clear yet if the work crew doing maintenance on the line Thursday, actually damaged it or if the hole, leak or rupture was caused by something else. The crew included one Chevron employee and four contractors. According to Barnum, they noticed product escaping from the line and immediately left the area. He says the gas ignited after that.

Even after pressure in the line was reduced, Barnum explained why the fire continued to burn. “The liquid that remains in there, it’s often called boiling off. It’s going from a liquid to a vapor stage. It’s going to whatever this leak or hole is, and it’s coming out as a gas, because it’s at atmospheric conditions, and there’s a fire there which is consuming the product.”

Barnum said crews still need to bring in equipment to shut down an adjacent 14-inch line, and push product out of that line, before the area can be considered safe for residents to return.

Milford Mayor Bruce Perryman said he had signed a declaration of a state of emergency for the city Thursday night.

Chevron has also set up a claims process for people forced to evacuate. The company hotline is 855-276-1272 and the line was active Thursday night.

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