- One person is dead and multiple are injured after explosions stemming from natural gas utility lines ignited fires at more than 70 homes in Northern Massachusetts on Thursday night.
- State police and city leaders urged residents in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover to evacuate their homes shortly after 7 p.m., following reports of multiple fires at locations served by utility Columbia Gas. In all, more than 8,000 homes could be vulnerable to the incident, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, R, told reporters Thursday.
- Columbia Gas said it is still working to identify the cause of the explosions, but gas experts told the Boston Globe they were likely caused by overpressurized gas lines. The utility said earlier Thursday it was working on lines in the area, and the stock of its parent company, NiSource, fell 10% at the opening bell on Friday.
The dozens of fires that engulfed homes in Northern Massachusetts highlight the inherent risks of fossil fuel infrastructure and are likely to add to public animus in a region where residents are already critical of the natural gas sector.
According to the Massachusetts State Police, gas explosions were widespread across the three communities. Local news dispatches from the scene show homes bursting into flames with little warning.
MSP Fusion Center has current updated tally of responses to fires/explosions/investigations of gas odor at 70. Spread over wide swath of south #Lawrence and northern part of #NorthAndover with several others across Merrimack River in north Lawrence. pic.twitter.com/a7kBYaWFrJ— Mass State Police (@MassStatePolice) September 13, 2018
Authorities responded by evacuating residents from their homes, shutting down highways into the three cities and cutting off electricity service to affected areas as a precaution. At a press conference Thursday night, local leaders said some residents could be out of their homes for days while utility crews inspect them for safety issues.
Columbia Gas on Friday morning warned of an "extended restoration effort," but said it still has not identified the cause of the explosions.
"Columbia Gas crews need to visit each of the 8,600 affected customers to shut off each gas meter and conduct a safety inspection," the utility said in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, the utility issued a statement saying it was working to upgrade gas lines across its service area that day. It remains unclear whether or how the work affected the gas explosions that evening.
During the press conference Baker urged the company to identify the cause of the incidents quickly. The explosions and fires injured 10 people and killed one man when a chimney from a flaming house fell on his car.
"They’re going to do a review. As far as I’m concerned right now, this is an incomplete," Baker said. "They must immediately bring in additional resources and develop a comprehensive safety and inspection plan for each of these communities."