Offshore Gas Platform Fire

A plume of smoke rises from Hilcorp's Baker platform on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014 near Nikiski, Alaska. The fire appeared to be out later in the morning, but vessels at the scene were still battling smoke, the Coast Guard said. The platform is 8 miles off shore. There were no immediate reports of injuries, and Petty Officer Joshua Yates said no fuel spilled into the inlet’s waters. (AP Photo/Peninsula Clarion, Rashha McChesney)

ANCHORAGE — A fire that broke out Thursday morning in the personnel quarters of a natural gas platform in Cook Inlet forced the rig’s crew to flee in a helicopter and sent a plume of black smoke billowing into the sky.

The four-person crew was uninjured. The cause and cost of the fire were still unclear later Thursday.

The fire on Hilcorp’s Baker platform, offshore about eight miles from Nikiski, was reported to the Coast Guard’s Anchorage office at about 8:30 a.m., according to the Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. It was said to be under control by about 10 a.m., though smoke could still be seen coming from the rig hours later.

A DEC spokeswoman said the fire appeared to be extinguished by Thursday afternoon. But firefighting vessels that had been spraying seawater on it would continue to do so throughout the night, she said, and an inspection team would attempt to board the rig Friday and verify the fire was fully out.

The most important thing about the incident was that the four employees were not hurt, Hilcorp spokeswoman Lori Nelson said by phone from Nikiski. The crew had shut down the rig’s gas systems — meaning no gas was flowing from the well roughly 100 feet below the rig or through pipelines to a plant in Nikiski — and one of two helicopters Hilcorp keeps on standby flew to the rig to rescue them, Nelson said.

“The priority was to evacuate personnel safely, and that was done,” Nelson said.

The fire destroyed the housing structure and did not appear to have ignited any gas or other fuel, Nelson said.

Steve Russell, the DEC’s on-scene coordinator in Nikiski, said vessels near the platform, including two being used to douse it with seawater, had reported seeing no signs of pollution in Cook Inlet from fuel or lubricants on the rig.

In a situation report, the DEC said the platform has the capacity to hold about 10,000 gallons of petroleum products. Cook Inlet Beluga whales, an endangered species, as well as harbor seals and waterfowl may be in the area, according to the DEC.

“We do not have anybody on the platform, so we do not know what the condition of those tanks are at this time,” Russell said.

Nelson, with Hilcorp, said she did not know how much diesel or other fluids were in the tanks.

The firefighting vessels were spraying water to cool the rig and prevent the fire from igniting again, Russell said. They had not used fire retardant or foam, which could have been another environmental concern, he said.

“We’re talking a lot of hot metal,” Russell said.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said the Coast Guard had cordoned off a two-mile zone around the platform to ensure the firefighters’ safety. The Coast Guard cutter Mustang was at the scene to enforce the safety zone, and both a C-130 airplane and MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flew over the area to provide a view of the firefighting operation from the sky, Eggert said.

Nelson, with Hilcorp, said the fire reportedly started in the above-deck housing structure on the platform. Asked if there was a possibility that the fire was human caused, Nelson said she did not know.

“The cause is still under investigation, so for me to make a comment would be pure speculation,” Nelson said.

The Baker platform started operation in 1965, and Hilcorp has owned it since 2012. In Nikiski still monitoring the situation, Nelson said she did not know the rig’s value.

Staff writer Casey Grove is the News-Miner’s Anchorage reporter. Contact him at 907-770-0722 or follow on Twitter: @kcgrove. Staff writer Tom Hewitt contributed to this report.