Several suspected gas explosions caused fires in Massachusetts

Officials responded to multiple addresses for fire, explosions or investigation in three Massachusetts towns.

Posted: Sep 16, 2018 10:41 AM
Updated: Sep 16, 2018 11:02 AM

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency Friday in three towns north of Boston rocked by a string of deadly gas explosions, and he put another utility company in charge of restoration efforts.

"Today on a number of very significant issues, we heard one thing and something else happened," Baker told reporters.

Baker said Eversource would replace Columbia Gas on the same day he warned still-stunned residents of the three towns that the return to normalcy could take time following blasts Thursday that set homes ablaze, forced evacuations and left one person dead.

"The follow-through just wasn't there," Baker said. "We need to get on with this."

Mayor Daniel Rivera of Lawrence, one of the affected towns, said of the company, "It just seemed like there's no one in charge, like they're in the weeds, and they've never seen this before."

There was no immediate reaction from Columbia Gas but the company had scheduled a news conference for 4 p.m.

Hundreds of natural gas technicians were to descend on Lawrence, Andover and North Andover in the coming days to restore gas service safely before electricity could be turned on, state officials said earlier Friday.

"Utility technicians must do their jobs in order to make sure everyone has a safe place to return to," Baker said. "This will not be an easy process and we ask for continued patience."

Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said, "How long is it going to take? As long as it takes. ... We don't know today how long this will take."

The investigation into the cause -- involving the National Transportation Safety Board and other federal agencies -- is in its early stages, officials said.

"Once the utilities secure the affected areas we'll work with the federal government to investigate how this occurred and who should be held accountable for the results and actions," Baker said.

As pressure mounted Friday for gas company officials to provide answers about what happened, Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called for a congressional hearings on the explosions and fires.

"People have a right to know," Markey told reporters. "There's oftentimes a tendency, when there are accidents like this, for a company to huddle down, to try to protect their shareholders when their one goal should be just to protect the people who they are serving. We're going to be here to make sure that that happens."

Thursday evening, homes erupted in flames across the three towns, consumed by more than 60 suspected gas fires.

"It looked like Armageddon, it really did," Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield said.

One house in Lawrence exploded, sending the chimney flying. It crashed into a nearby car, fatally wounding a teenager who was inside. Leonel Rondon, 18, and two of his friends were in the car when the debris struck, his family told CNN affiliate WHDH. He later died at the hospital, authorities said.

Also in Lawrence, a boiler inside Ra Nam's house caught fire, he told CNN affiliate WCVB.

Minutes later, he said he heard a loud booming sound from his neighbor's house. Three people rushed out. About 25 people, including two firefighters, were wounded, officials said.

"This has been an overwhelming event," Mansfield said. "I have been in the fire service for almost 39 years and I have never seen anything like this in my entire career."

Gas, power shut off

Gas technicians and first responders went door to door reviewing thousands of homes in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover and shutting down gas mains.

Officials were also shutting down power in the three towns, Massachusetts State Police said Thursday evening. The agency confirmed at least 70 responses to fire, explosions and gas odor reports. About 18,000 customers were without power.

The blazes left 8,000 people unable to go home Thursday. A middle school in North Andover and a senior center in Andover were set up for evacuees, according to state police.

Schools were to be closed Friday in Lawrence and Andover. All state offices in the three towns were also closed, and nonemergency employees were told to stay home.

The NTSB sent a team Friday to investigate what "appears to be multiple explosions involving (a) natural gas pipeline in the Merrimack Valley area of Massachusetts," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt said his agency would look at "the design of the pipeline system, any maintenance or upgrades being done or in process of being done on the pipeline. The integrity management system of the pipeline operator Columbia Gas. We'll look at the emergency response, the system safety program of the pipeline operator."

"Our mission is to find out what happened, so that we can learn from it and keep it from happening again," he said.

Thousands can't go home

Information about the full extent of the damage was not immediately available Thursday night, and authorities cautioned it was "far too early to speculate" on the cause of the explosions.

Earlier Thursday before the fires broke out, the utility company that services the area announced it would be upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhoods across the state.

"Weather permitting, work will take place Monday through Friday," Columbia Gas said in a statement. Andover, North Andover and Lawrence were included in the planned projects.

Gas service was interrupted for 250 customers in Lawrence last month because of a line hit by a third party, according to the company. It's unclear whether that incident was related to Thursday's fire and explosions.

The governor said he urged Columbia Gas to develop a "comprehensive safety inspection plan."

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said residents won't be allowed to return home until crews inspect every home and make sure there are no more gas leaks.

"We are not sure that's going to be anytime soon. Make plans for at least between now and this time tomorrow," Rivera said early Friday.

The explosions and emergency response caused Amtrak to cancel four train routes between Boston and Maine.

Utility works with officials to 'investigate this incident'

In a statement Friday, Columbia Gas said crew members are working to restore power with the help of other utility companies.

"Our thoughts are with the community and everyone impacted by yesterday's tragic incident. We are focused on providing as much support as possible to our customers, residents and communities," the company said in the statement.

Columbia Gas also said it's working with officials to "investigate this incident in order to understand its cause."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 71015

Reported Deaths: 3013
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15322723
Lake7343274
Elkhart471380
Allen3725160
St. Joseph330179
Hamilton2610104
Vanderburgh184213
Hendricks1814106
Cass17669
Johnson1694118
Porter123839
Clark114846
Tippecanoe114611
Madison89565
LaPorte86930
Howard85565
Kosciusko82712
Marshall75822
Bartholomew75447
Floyd74045
Monroe70830
Delaware68052
Dubois65812
Boone65346
Noble64529
Hancock63838
Jackson5625
LaGrange55410
Warrick55330
Vigo54310
Shelby53527
Grant52029
Dearborn47928
Morgan45134
Clinton4043
Henry36919
White35110
Montgomery34621
Wayne34610
Lawrence33727
Decatur32432
Harrison30923
Putnam2778
Miami2642
Daviess25920
Scott25710
Greene24134
Franklin23413
DeKalb2234
Jasper2192
Jennings21512
Gibson2084
Steuben2043
Ripley1947
Perry17912
Fayette1777
Starke1747
Orange16624
Posey1650
Wabash1613
Fulton1592
Carroll1572
Wells1542
Jefferson1532
Whitley1476
Knox1420
Tipton1296
Huntington1213
Washington1211
Spencer1193
Newton11410
Randolph1144
Clay1045
Sullivan911
Adams892
Jay840
Owen831
Pulaski751
Brown711
Rush714
Fountain642
Benton600
Blackford592
Ohio574
Pike520
Parke501
Vermillion480
Crawford440
Switzerland440
Martin420
Union350
Warren201
Unassigned0202

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 97471

Reported Deaths: 3618
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin17834521
Cuyahoga13141491
Hamilton9374252
Lucas5155320
Montgomery417487
Summit3433218
Marion291045
Butler282262
Mahoning2477254
Pickaway237842
Stark1766137
Warren171136
Lorain168977
Columbiana161860
Trumbull1481105
Fairfield130931
Delaware126319
Licking120247
Clark111514
Lake107338
Wood99358
Clermont89211
Medina88735
Miami81137
Tuscarawas76214
Portage74361
Allen69942
Greene65611
Belmont59226
Richland58911
Mercer57313
Erie55627
Ashtabula55045
Geauga54844
Wayne51958
Ross4444
Huron3885
Ottawa36825
Sandusky36316
Darke36027
Athens3531
Hancock3533
Madison34910
Holmes3266
Lawrence2420
Auglaize2395
Union2331
Jefferson2192
Muskingum2151
Scioto2111
Putnam19917
Washington19822
Knox1917
Seneca1903
Coshocton1886
Shelby1774
Preble1762
Crawford1715
Morrow1652
Hardin15912
Clinton1586
Champaign1571
Highland1461
Fulton1441
Logan1402
Ashland1373
Wyandot1368
Defiance1334
Williams1303
Brown1232
Perry1163
Guernsey1147
Hocking1149
Henry1132
Carroll1105
Fayette1090
Monroe9118
Pike750
Jackson730
Van Wert701
Paulding640
Gallia621
Adams592
Meigs330
Vinton302
Morgan230
Harrison221
Noble170
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 63°
Angola
Few Clouds
57° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 57°
Huntington
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 60°
Decatur
59° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 59°
Van Wert
59° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 59°
Sunny, Seasonable Saturday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events