UPDATE: Tharptown residents allowed to return to homes; fire still active

THARPTOWN, Ala. - Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver confirmed there has been a natural gas explosion in Tharptown that has led to injuries.

A crew of four men with Gentry Drilling Company from Lawrence County, Tenn. hit a pocket of natural gas while drilling for water near County Road 724, just off of Highway 24.

At first the men didn't know they struck the pocket. It wasn't until one tried to weld a cracked control rod and the spark created a fireball.

Dalton Robinson was the only crew member not seriously hurt. "When I jumped off the side of the rig from maybe 10 to 12 feet up in the air, I looked over and I see one of our guys is on fire so I run over and try to put him out," Robinson said.  "I patted him down, I got a couple of burns. The other three guys were the main ones that was hurt. I just tried to do my best to keep them alive."

Police reported that the 3100 block of County Road 724 had to be evacuated.  At this time residents have been allowed to return to their homes, but County Road 724 remains closed between CR 75 and CR 83 for the foreseeable future.

The well hit by the crews is still on fire, and the workers are consulting natural gas experts to determine how to stop the flames.

EMA officials and firefighters will remain on the scene until a plan can be devised to cap the well. State officials said that there is no immediate danger to residents.

Robinson said they it's unheard of to hit natural gas at 380 feet. "Natural gas is 1,500" and on down usually, but we just hit a pocket and nobody knew it."

Medical helicopters arrived on the scene and took three people to the hospital for serious burns.

Two of the three crew members who were airlifted to UAB have been treated and released. The third crew member remains hospitalized.