By JAMES MacPHERSON , 07.25.11, 12:06 PM EDT
BISMARCK, N.D. -- Natural gas ignited during drilling operations at an oil well in western North Dakota, starting a fire that severely burned two men, injured another and will likely burn for at least a week before it's brought under control, the state's top oil regulator said Monday.
Lynn Helms, the director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, said the fire started Sunday at the site near Beach. The drill rig toppled during the blaze, and oil, gas and debris were still burning Monday, he said.
"They had just finished their drilling operation and it caught fire," Helms said.
Like many oil-producing states, North Dakota has no specialized equipment to battle oil well fires. Because of the costs involved, the state - despite its booming oil patch - doesn't require, it and thus the companies are unwilling to invest in expensive equipment. Helms has said state officials were going to discuss the issue, but no talks have yet been held.
"This may take most if not all of this week to put out," he said.
The two critically injured men were flown to a burn center in the Minneapolis area, Helms said. A third man suffered minor injuries.