ORLAND, California. The Chico Enterprise Record reported that two ranch hands were seriously injured yesterday when an irrigation well that they were working on suddenly exploded with flame. The workers were employed by Lassen Land Company, a large almond ranch southwest of Orland, and were making repairs on the well equipment when they were hit by the flame that shot out of the ground. It was assumed that the culprit was natural gas that had seeped into the 400-500 foot well and was touched off during the work.
The two workers, ages 50 and 21, were flown by helicopter to Enloe Hospital in Chico. The older gentleman was treated and released while the younger man who had second and third-degree burns to his hand and arm was listed in serious condition and was scheduled for transfer to the burn center at U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
It is not uncommon in certain geographical areas that methane or other gases will seep into water wells. Methane gas is lighter than ambient air, and as it either leaks into the well or bubbles up through the water, it will rise to the top of the well. This can cause explosions in the wells to occur when pumps, motors and other well equipment spark an ignition of the accumulated gases. For this reason, wells must be properly vented. Additionally, there are simple tests available to determine if the wells are infiltrated with gas.
The specific type of gas and the manner of its ignition was not available in the Enterprise Record article. The Glenn County Sheriff’s Office has turned the matter over to Cal OSHA for further investigation.