MOBILE, Ala. —
Video from WALA-TV (http://bit.ly/15NEYJl) showed flames engulfing a large section of the barge, and a video that a bystander sent to AL.com (http://bit.ly/13vWz4G) showed the fiery explosions and billowing smoke over the river.
The initial blast took place in a ship channel near the George C. Wallace Tunnel — which carries traffic from Interstate 10 under the Mobile River, Vega said. The river runs south past Mobile and into Mobile Bay, which in turn flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
The tunnels were still open and operating, Mobile fire officials said in a statement.
As daybreak approached, the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department's fireboat Phoenix was moving toward the barges, checking to make sure their mooring lines were secured, the fire department said in a statement.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, Huffman and Vega said.
"Once (the fire) is out and safe, a full investigation will take place," Huffman wrote.
Mobile Fire Chief Steve Dean told AL.com he was confident the fire wouldn't spread to nearby industrial properties, including the shipyard where the Carnival cruise ship is docked.
Huffman said the ship is directly across the river from the incident — about two football fields in length.
The barges are owned by Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine, company spokesman Greg Beuerman said. He said the barges were empty and being cleaned at the Oil Recovery Co. facility when the incident began. He said the barges had been carrying a liquid called natural gasoline — which he said is neither liquefied natural gas or natural gas. He said the company has dispatched a team to work with investigators to determine what caused the fire.
The explosion comes two months after the 900-foot-long Carnival Triumph was towed to Mobile after becoming disabled on the Gulf during a cruise by an engine room fire, leaving thousands of passengers to endure cold food, unsanitary conditions and power outages for several days. The ship is still undergoing repairs there, with many workers living on board.
Earlier this month, the cruise ship was dislodged from its mooring by a windstorm that also caused, in a separate incident, two shipyard workers to fall into Mobile Bay. While one worker was rescued, the other's body was pulled from the water more than a week later.