Walking Whatcom Creek 23 Years After the Olympic Pipeline Explosion
On Tuesday, we walked Whatcom Creek. Our whole staff together. Carl Weimer narrated as we visited the sites of those tragic events in ’99.
We stood where the victims played and recreated; where those taken too soon cast their final line and lived out their last game of make believe.
Carl led us through that day, June 10, 1999, from start to finish.
It was like any other June day in Bellingham, WA, overcast with temperatures topping out around 63 degrees Fahrenheit. The clouds tend to make the fish bite better. Good anglers know that.
As school and work let out, community members young and old made their way to Whatcom Creek to recreate, as they still do to this day. Some on their way for a jog or bike ride, others to the creek bank and hillsides to find refuge, as they always had.
It was about 3:28 p.m. when the gasoline started filling the creek to the brim. The 16-inch diameter Olympic Pipeline had experienced a rupture and would proceed to release around 237,000 gallons over the next hour and a half. A completely-preventable tragedy had begun to unfold.
Around 5:00 p.m. the gasoline ignited. A massive fireball and ensuing smokescreen engulfed the skies of Bellingham, a city known for pristine air quality. One and a half miles of the creek burned.
At this point in the narration, Carl pointed to the lush riparian habitat adjacent our group; it was all new growth.
“Every living thing along this stretch of creek died,” he said.
Lichen, fungi, plants, animals, people. Nothing was spared in this disaster. It was slightly hard to picture, as now, twenty-three years later, the creek looked pristine.
But you could tell from the waver in Carl’s voice as he continued with the history. You could tell from the air of grim reality that set in over the group.
June 10, 1999 was a day of unimaginable grief for the City of Bellingham. And since, The Pipeline Safety Trust has made it our mission and purpose to prevent further pipeline disasters from claiming the lives of the innocent and destroying our life-giving habitats.
On this day, our entire staff and community think about the families and all those affected by the reprehensible negligence on the part of the Olympic Pipeline Company.
With clear purpose and mission in mind, the Pipeline Safety Trust will work diligently toward our goal of zero pipeline incidents.