For members of TransCanada’s U.S. gas operations construction service's crew, it was supposed to be a routine maintenance project. Gary Thornburg and his crew made up of Bill Donner, Karl Clark and Brett Smith were dispatched just south of Bloomington, Indiana, where they would be working on a portion of the ANR pipeline.
"When we pulled up to the job site we parked next to a farmer's field that had some brush piles," said Gary Thornburg, construction service crew member. "We figured that these brush piles would eventually end up becoming burn piles, as it's common practice to see this, especially in rural areas."
The portion of the right-of-way the job would take place on required the crew to take a short walk, leaving their trucks behind and making their way over a hill, which would make it impossible to see where they parked.
"It was around lunchtime when we started to notice smoke rising from behind us in an area that looked close to the field we parked next to earlier," said Thornburg. "We didn't really think much of the smoke, especially since it was coming from the general direction of the piles we saw that morning."
It was when Thornburg and crew got ready to take a break for lunch that one of the crew members pointed out something that didn't seem right.
"It was a pretty windy day and one of the crew members mentioned how the smoke looked to have drifted a little farther east of where we saw the brush piles that morning," said Thornburg. "We decided to take a walk down to hill to check and make sure everything was ok."
Making their way back down to the field, they saw something they didn't expect. Emergency responders were already on the scene. The wind spread the fire from the brush piles – where it initially started – through the surrounding field, approaching a nearby forest and the adjacent right-of-way.
"With the fire spreading we knew we needed to and could help," said Bill Donner, construction service crew member. "Part of our crew used fire extinguishers to put out fires that started in some hollowed out trees, while others grabbed shovels and built a dirt berm, used to protect the fire from doing any damage to our right-of-way or landowners' properties."
Together, emergency responders and TransCanada crew members were able to keep the fire under control, preventing it from spreading, mitigating the damage to the surrounding area.
"As part of our job, we receive training in firefighting and emergency response. These skills help educate us on the proper way to respond to situations like this," said Donner. "I've been a volunteer firefighter myself for 24 years, I know just how difficult it can be to handle a fire like this, I'm just glad we were able to help."