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Natural gas ignited during drilling operations at an oil well in western North Dakota, starting a fire severely burning two men and injuring another. The blaze will likely burn for at least a week before they can bring it under control, state officials said.

The fire started Sunday at the site near Beach, said Lynn Helms, the director of the state Department of Mineral Resources. The drill rig toppled during the blaze, and oil, gas and debris were still burning Monday.

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“They had just finished their drilling operation and it caught fire,” Helms said.

North Dakota has no specialized equipment to battle oil well fires. Because of the costs involved the state does not require specialized equipment and companies just will not invest in the expensive safety equipment.

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Helms said the cause of the fire is under investigation and well fire specialists from Houston-based Wild Well Control Inc. traveled in from Texas to extinguish the fire, Helms said. “This may take most if not all of this week to put out,” he said.

Rescue officials flew the two critically injured men to a burn center in the Minneapolis area, Helms said. A third man suffered minor injuries.

Gillette, WY-based Cyclone Drilling Inc. said it owns the rig but had no details about the blaze or the men’s injuries, spokeswoman Brittani Piesik said.

The blaze is at least the third oil field fire in North Dakota this year, after two in March. Helms had said in March the state’s Industrial Commission wanted to discuss the issue of having specialized well fire equipment on hand. The panel includes Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

Helms said the well near Beach was going to be one of the top producers in the Three Forks-Sanish formation, which lies directly below the Bakken formation. Tulsa, OK-based Pride Energy Co. is the well’s majority owner while Enid, OK-based Continental Resources Inc. has a minority stake.

Though they drilled the well, they had not yet undergone hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses pressurized fluid and sand to break open oil and gas bearing rock up to 2 miles underground, Helms said.

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