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25 Years After Explosion, Shutdown Closes Pipeline Agency

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MOUNDS VIEW (WCCO) — A state agency that was created to keep neighborhoods safe is now closed because of the shutdown.

The Office of Pipeline Safety was created after a petroleum pipeline exploded in Mounds View 25 years ago on July 8, 1986. Two-hundred people had to evacuate their homes, and two people died.

New Brighton Police Chief Bob Jacobson was a 26-year-old officer at the time in the middle of the horror. He recalled multiple explosions that morning, and he didn’t know where the next one would come from.

“They weren’t small flames. They were knee-high to waist-high that you were running through,” said Jacobson.

All of Woodcrest Drive, just East of Long Lake, was on fire.

“Flames, at some point, were 30 feet high,” he said.

It looked like a bomb exploded in the peaceful neighborhood. Power lines melted. Thick, black smoke drifted overhead.

Jacobson evacuated residents before reaching Bev Spano, whose entire body was burned. Her daughter, Jennifer, was next to her on the driveway and burned on 99 percent of her body.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my daughter who died,” said Jennifer’s father, Don. “Their prospects for survival were slim to none.”

Now, the shutdown has changed the Office of Pipeline Safety’s operation.

“We had to develop those contingency plans when the shutdown occurred so that we were able to respond to an emergency,” said Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Investigators now work on-call. They’re brought in after dispatchers at the Operations Center inside the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension contact them through a chain of communication.

Also, inspections of pipelines and pumping stations won’t be happening during the shutdown. The inspections are considered day-to-day operations where there’s no threat to health and safety.

If there’s another emergency like the one that happened in Mounds View, the pipeline operator is still required to call 911 and then call the operations center, too. Whether there’s a state shutdown or not, that protocol does not change.

The state expects a seamless response to an emergency, and so do those who lived through it.

“In the end, we just hope it never happens again,” said Jacobson.

As for Spano, he remarried and had more children the last 25 years.

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