MILFORD Officials in Milford said residents will likely have to wait until late Friday night before they can return home following a gas pipeline explosion Thursday morning south of the town in Ellis County.

The explosion occurred just after 9:30 a.m. at a drilling site near FM 308 in a rural area. Officials said the crew working on the rig was able to escape and there were no injuries.

Ellis County Judge Carol Bush said a 1.5 mile radius around the site has been closed off as a team investigates. Representatives with Chevron, which owns the pipeline, were also at the scene.

'I thought something fell on the house at first, so I went out to look and there was another boom; it wasn't real loud or anything, but then there was a third one that really got my attention,' said Milford resident Randy Mercott.'The flames were extremely high in the air, over the tree line and over the power cords I could see the flames.'

Officials said Milford will remain evacuated for about 36 hours based on the assessment of Texas Emergency Management, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

'We plan to monitor the situation,' Bush said.'... I know that there may be some concerns. You look outside and you see a plume of black smoke and we have been told it has been represented to us that the smoke is not toxic. But, we don't want to rely on just the initial representations and assessments. We want to make sure we have the officials in place to come and actually assess any potential dangers that might ... need to be addressed.'

According to Milford volunteer fire Chief Mark Jackson, the explosion happened when a 10-inch liquid petroleum gas line was broken. The drilling rig became completely engulfed in flames and large plumes of thick black smoke filled the sky. Several vehicles at the site were destroyed in the blaze.

The line was closed off and crews waited for the fire to burn itself out.

Chevron officials arrived at the scene in Ellis County Thursday night and apologized.

'I'd like to start off expressing my apology on behalf of Chevron and myself,' said Jim Barnum, Chevron spokesman from Bellaire, Tex. on Thursday night.

Chevron expressed gratitude to Ellis County's first responders in protecting people after the explosion.The company is assembling plans and mobilizing equipment to get the situation stablizied, Barnum added.

'We wont attempt to blow out the flame, per se,' he continued, 'we will let the 10-inch pipe burn out.'

Chevron also revealed the neighboring 14-inch pipeline next to the one on fire continues to have high-pressure gas run through it.

'Up to this point, we've kept product in that line to keep it as cool as possible because that product in it will help cool it,' Barnum explained.

He said the company couldn't guess how long the fire will burn since engineers don't know the size of the rupture.The pipeline on fire stretches 2,295 miles and carries high pressure liquified petroleum gas from southeast New Mexico to Mont Belvieu, which is just east of Houston.

Jackson said about 200 students in the Milford Independent School District were evacuated to the gym of Italy High School, called The Dome. The blast was about a half-mile from the campus. Bush said while almost everyone voluntarily evacuated.

'I was shocked, no words for it,' said senior Aryan Jordan. 'I was scared.'

Milford's school superintendent reiterated classes are cancelled tomorrow and said it is still uncertain whether its football team will take part in a playoff game since players can't get to any of their equipment on campus.

By 5 p.m., few people remained at the school. Officials closed off numerous roads as they waited for the fire to burn out. The Milford campus was staffed largely by substitutes because several teachers were at a conference in Dallas. School officials say the evacuation went perfectly.

The Red Cross also created a shelter at Italy High School for residents forced to evacuate. At 5 p.m., 51 people were registered to stay there. Milford's mayor, Bruce Perryman, said all but two of the town's residents complied with the evacuation order. A couple of them decided to remain in their homes.

Milford is located about 14 miles northeast of Hillsboro. In 2010, the population was counted at 728, according to the U.S. Census.

Chevron has set up a claims line for residents at 855.276.1272.

WFAA's Marie Saavedra, Jim Douglas and Jason Whitely contributed to this report

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