Natural gas compressor explodes outside Pierce Transit building

Natural gas compressor explodes outside Pierce Transit building
LAKEWOOD, Wash -- A natural gas explosion outside the Pierce Transit administration building ignited flames and released big plumes of smoke seen for miles late Monday afternoon.

Firefighters arrived at the building on South Tacoma Way at 96th Street just after 5 p.m. to find a natural gas compressor on fire, said West Pierce Fire & Rescue Capt. Jenny Sharp. The compressor was located at a refueling island in the building's lot.

"The heat was so intense, firefighters had to back off to be at a safe distance to fight the fire," Sharp said.

Officials ordered an evacuation of buildings within a quarter-mile radius of the explosion site as a precaution. But roads were reopen after Puget Sound Energy shut off the gas line around 6 p.m.

Witness Ted Ford said he heard and felt three consecutive explosions from about a mile away.

"My car shook - I drive a minivan. It shook when the second two explosions happened," he said. "(The) smoke is just so thick."

Investigators are working to determine what caused the compressor to explode. No one was injured in the incident.

Because the natural gas compressor has been damaged, Pierce Transit said buses may not be running on normal schedule Tuesday.

"We already have staff coming in that are going to be running buses up to our emergency fueling site at Sea-Tac Airport," said Pierce Transit spokesman Lind Simonsen. "And the problem is tomorrow, we're concerned about how much service we'll be able to get out on the road.

Riders are urged to check for any disruptions on Tuesday morning before heading out for their commute.