Gas leak, apparent explosion forces evacuation of St. Paul neighborhood

7:57 AM, Feb 2, 2010   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A clogged sewer became a 'much larger' problem for a St. Paul homeowner Monday morning.

Fire investigators say a contractor trying to unplug a sewer pipe cut a natural gas line in the basement of a home on the 2000 block of Villard Avenue, triggering an explosion and fire. 

Firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after 10 a.m. and entered the home, but immediately pulled back after discovering the blaze was fueled by natural gas. Crews immediately went into defensive mode to make sure the fire didn't jump to nearby homes.

"We weren't going to save this house because of the way the fire was being fed by gas," explained St. Paul Fire Marshall Steve Zaccard, "we weren't going to be able to save it so we didn't risk lives doing that  

When a basement gas line breaks, it can move through sewer lines and fill nearby homes that are on the system. Authorities say the immediate concern was that the natural gas would fill the sewer system and surrounding homes with gas. 

"Now the gas is in the sewer system, was out here in the street, we found gas readings in some of the neighboring homes," said Zaccard, "so we had to evacuate the neighborhood, about 15 homes."

"They just said 'you have to leave your houses' because you could smell gas so strong around the whole neighborhood," shared next door neighbor Michelle Schuster.  

The St. Paul Fire Department put special vented fans in the manhole covers along Villard Avenue to dissipate any natural gas buildup. Crews did find measurable amounts of natural gas in several of the houses and ventilated them as well. Residents were allowed back into their homes around noon. 

Xcel Energy crews dug a hole and crimped the main supply line to the neighborhood.  At least eight homes in the neighborhood had no natural gas or heat for several hours, but repairs were made and service restored by mid-afternoon.

The contractor injured in the explosion suffered serious burns and was taken to a nearby hospital.  His condition is not known at this time.

The homeowner had purchased the home late last summer. Her neighbor Michelle Schuster says the woman and her two dogs were home at the time of the explosion but escaped without injury. "She just moved in in August, she said 'I just love my house'... so.. she's devastated."

(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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