Kent Residents: ‘We Evacuated Ourselves’

KENT, W.Va. – Delbert Wade heard a pounding at his door. It was just before 1:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21.

Lorri Davisson heard the same pounding just minutes later.

A neighbor stood outside. Nearby, at the Blue Racer Midstream Plant operated by Dominion Resources and Caiman Energy, which process natural gas and natural gas liquids, a fire raged.

Davisson called the experience “a terrifying experience. It looked like the whole valley was exploding. The whole sky was orange and it sounded like landing airplanes.”

Kent residents were kept out of their homes for about two hours. No injuries were reported in the fire, and an investigation continues.

Since Sept. 21, the story has been that Marshall County officials evacuated the 25 residents who live in Kent. But the folks there have a different story to tell.

Wade and Davisson said they and their neighbors evacuated themselves after a neighbor saw the fire and alerted the community by going door to door.

Wade noted a State Police officer did later arrive in Kent, but most of the community had left by that time.

Wade said he evacuated to a family member’s home in Glen Dale.

He said he was contacted by Dominion officials the next day.

Given what could have happened with the explosion and fire, Wade expects some answers from the company.

Wade said the community does not have an early warning system in place with Dominion if the event of an emergency. He noted PPG has a pole with a buzzer installed in the neighborhood that emits a loud blast in case of an emergency, with three blasts meaning to evacuate the area immediately.

Wade said Dominion met with the community about a year ago and assured residents there was no reason to be concerned about the plant’s activities, but said they didn’t have a warning system in place yet.

Wade said he hasn’t heard from the company since that meeting.

“We don’t feel safe,” Wade said. “None of us do. We are a relaxed community and we’ve lived here for 50 years and it’s been home to us. We are afraid to go to bed at night and everybody I talk to wants to sell out and relocate. Our safety doesn’t seem to be a concern.”

Davisson said she and her family could feel the heat from the fire when they fled their home, going to her sister-in-law’s house in Marshall County. Davisson said she has not yet received a phone call or a visit from Dominion about the fire.

“If Dominion has an emergency plan in place, it’s not a good one because I haven’t heard of it,” she said.

Marshall County Emergency Management Director Tom Hart confirmed many of the residents had evacuated the area before State Police arrived, noting self-evacuation is not uncommon in these situations.

“If I lived there and (saw) what they initially saw, I would have evacuated, too,” Hart said.

According to Ray Seech, director of Natural Gas Liquids operations for Blue Racer Midstream, it is in Dominion’s emergency plans to have Marshall County Emergency Management and the State Police notify residents to evacuate during an incident. Seech noted Dominion has done drills periodically with local fire departments and Marshall County EMS.

He also said local emergency workers are aware of the materials Blue Racer handles and knows how the plant fire hydrants work and their locations.

“Safety is our core value, for the public and employees and any person in the area,” Seech said. “The fire was contained in a small part of the plant and extinguished.”

Seech said a third-party investigator was on site at the plant all last week, but the fire’s cause has not been determined.

Hart said a review of how the fire was handled will take place between Blue Racer and the public agencies involved to determine what went well and what needs improved.

Also last week, Robert C. Orndorff Jr., managing director of state and local affairs for Dominion, spoke to the Marshall County Commission saying he had talked to about 25 residents in Kent after the fire. What has been said to residents remains unclear.

Seech confirmed Orndorff plans to meet again with Kent residents this week to address questions and concerns, but said an exact time has not been set.

“I imagine it was a big shock and the residents will have lots of questions for us,” Seech said.