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At Camp Humphreys, South Korea, firefighters stand near the site of a spill of about 33,000 gallons of fuel oil after a pipe broke Friday morning.
At Camp Humphreys, South Korea, firefighters stand near the site of a spill of about 33,000 gallons of fuel oil after a pipe broke Friday morning. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)
At Camp Humphreys, South Korea, firefighters stand near the site of a spill of about 33,000 gallons of fuel oil after a pipe broke Friday morning.
At Camp Humphreys, South Korea, firefighters stand near the site of a spill of about 33,000 gallons of fuel oil after a pipe broke Friday morning. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)
At Camp Humphreys, South Korea, a U.S. Army helicopter base, officials check a map while working to gauge the extent of a fuel-pipe break that released about 33,000 gallons of fuel over swamp-like, broken terrain Friday morning. No injuries were reported in the break, which occurred just behind a helicopter parking apron. With back partly turned toward camera is Camp Humphreys public works chief Bart Mirabel. Beyond him is Mark Hjuler, acting public works chief.
At Camp Humphreys, South Korea, a U.S. Army helicopter base, officials check a map while working to gauge the extent of a fuel-pipe break that released about 33,000 gallons of fuel over swamp-like, broken terrain Friday morning. No injuries were reported in the break, which occurred just behind a helicopter parking apron. With back partly turned toward camera is Camp Humphreys public works chief Bart Mirabel. Beyond him is Mark Hjuler, acting public works chief. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — An underground fuel pipe ruptured at this U.S. Army helicopter base Friday morning, sending an estimated 33,000 gallons of aviation fuel gushing over a tract of swamp-like, broken terrain behind a helicopter parking apron.

No aircraft damage or injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred around 9:10 a.m. The spill was confined to parts of a half-acre parcel on base, which officials cordoned off with yellow tape.

The rupture occurred just yards south of where AH-64 Apache attack helicopters are parked.

The spill posed no threat to the community outside the installation, according to U.S. military officials, who were working Friday evening to pinpoint exactly which places within that cordoned area contained spilled fuel, how deep into the ground it may have seeped, and other consequences of the break.

The pipe ruptured as a work crew started the transfer of JP-8 aviation fuel from a fuel storage point to a refuel point on the base flight line.

But when they saw the fuel shooting up from underground, workers halted the transfer, called the base fire department, and secured the pipe to prevent further fuel loss, officials said.

“It burst into the air” and sent fuel running “all over the place,” said Bart Mirabel, Camp Humphreys public works chief. "Of course, they closed the valve and stopped the spill.”

Then, through much of a cold, clear day, base officials moved to limit effects of the spill.

Two priorities topped their list: protecting the installation’s water supply from contamination and acting to prevent fuel contamination from reaching the South Korean community outside the installation, Mirabel said.

“None of that has happened,” Mirabel said. “It’s not a problem at this point and I don’t think it’s going to become a problem at this point.”

Workers used environmental protective devices and similar materials to block water sources that run to points outside the installation, officials said.

And they created a containment basin at one end of the spill site, said Mark Hjuler, also of Humphreys public works department.

Part of that basin included a natural dike that formed during recent rainfall; workers reinforced it Friday afternoon by pouring in additional quantities of dirt, Hjuler said.

Contaminated water that collects in the basin will then be pumped into a tank, Mirabel said.

U.S. military officials notified South Korean authorities of the incident.

While clean-up efforts go forward, Camp Humphreys will suspend use of the pipe and rely instead on trucks to transport fuel, Mirabel said.

What caused the break was undetermined as of Friday evening, but officials haven’t ruled out age.

“It’s a very, very old pipe, 30 or 35 years old … and it’s been repaired on many occasions,” Mirabel said.

Camp Humphreys uses the pipe to draw fuel for helicopters and government vehicles, and heating for barracks and other buildings, Mirabel said.

Camp Humphreys is a 1,230-acre installation in Pyongtaek, with about 4,300 troops stationed here. The installation is home to the U.S. Army’s 6th Cavalry Brigade, and its 23rd Area Support Group.

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