By this evening, authorities still had not recovered the body of the man believed to have been killed in the blaze, Josh Helms, of Thibodaux.
A raging pipeline fire in Paradis that erupted Thursday evening and sent flames high into the night sky, killing one worker dead and injuring two, was finally extinguished this morning.
The fire ignited as workers were attempting to clean a section of natural gas pipeline with a device called a "pig." The accident also forced a temporary evacuation of nearby neighborhoods and temporary closure of adjacent streets and highways.
Late this afternoon, La. 631, which roughly parallels U.S. 90 and is known locally as Old Spanish Trail, was reopened. It had been closed between La. 635 and La. 306 since the incident.
By this evening, authorities still had not recovered the body of the man believed to have been killed in the blaze, Josh Helms, of Thibodaux. Helms, a veteran pipeline worker, was employed by Phillips 66, which owns the pipeline. Family members declined to speak with a reporter.
One of the injured workers remains hospitalized in Baton Rouge, though he is expected to make a full recovery. His condition was upgraded Sunday from fair to good. While officials have not identified that man, WWL-TV reported that his name is Desmond Calloway.
The fire began when six workers -- three employed by Phillips 66 and three by Blanchard Contractors -- were trying to clean out a section of pipeline, officials said.
Oil and gas companies routinely send pieces of equipment called "pigs" down the line to keep it clear. To launch a pig, crews typically burn off the fuel in the pipe, then seal off the section so it can be depressurized. Then they load the pig, seal the pipe back up and open the valve, allowing the liquefied natural gas to push the equipment through.
It's not clear what went wrong in last week's operation. The state Department of Natural Resources and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are both investigating.
The pipeline, built in 1958, runs 86.6 miles between Venice and Paradis. It caught fire several years ago when it was struck by a boat in a bayou near the border between Jefferson and Lafourche parishes.
Steven Giambrone, director of the state Department of Natural Resources' pipeline safety program, said the pipeline's operators haven't incurred any violation notices since the DNR began filing records electronically in 2008. Phillips 66 recently purchased the pipeline from Chevron.
The dousing of the fire Monday morning was expected to allow the St. Charles Parish Coroner's Office to begin its investigation into Helms' death, officials said. A message left with the Coroner's Office was not returned.
Meanwhile, environmentalists who have been lobbying against the proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline across south Louisiana held a news conference Monday morning, saying the Paradis fire demonstrated the danger of oil and gas infrastructure not just to the environment at large, but to the workers who must build and maintain it.
The event was held outside the state Department of Environmental Quality's offices in Baton Rouge.
Regulators have said there is a substantial difference between natural gas lines, such as the one in Paradis, and crude oil lines, like Bayou Bridge. Natural gas travels through pressurized pipes and is much more volatile than oil, which mostly poses the danger of possible leaks into waterways.
Read full By Gordon Russell The Advocate (Baton Rouge)