Markers denote the path of the Tesoro Logistics pipeline at the point where it crosses underneath the Umatilla River south of Cayuse.

Markers denote the path of the Tesoro Logistics pipeline at the point where it crosses underneath the Umatilla River south of Cayuse.

E.J. Harris/East Oregonian

The explosion shook the ground beneath the Umatilla Indian Reservation and unleashed a massive fireball that roared up to 500 feet into the air.

On Jan. 2, 1999, a natural gas pipeline ruptured about a mile south of Cayuse at the base of the Blue Mountains, triggering the blast that left behind a large crater and sent shrapnel flying hundreds of feet.

“It sounded like a jet engine had crashed,” remembers Chuck Sams, now the communications director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Fortunately, no one was hurt and no homes damaged in the accident, but for tribal officials it underscored the potential danger of fossil fuel pipelines criss-crossing the landscape where American Indians live, hunt and retain cultural resources.

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