A series of natural gas explosions ripped through the towns of Lawrence and Andover, Massachusetts, north of Boston on Thursday. Fire crews scrambled to fight the flames that ignited in at least 39 homes. One individual, 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, died as a result of the explosions. At least 10 others were injured.
Entire neighborhoods were evacuated until the gas supply could be turned off and the flames brought under control.
All the homes affected were serviced by Columbia Gas. The utility company issued a statement this morning saying that its crews will visit 8,600 customer homes to shut off gas meters and conduct safety inspections. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker says that state and local authorities are investigating the cause of the blasts. He says it could take days or weeks to find answers.
Schools were closed for classes today so that several school buildings could be used as shelters for residents who had to leave their homes.
One Lawrence resident said he entered his basement on Thursday to find the room glowing. His smoke detector had gone off so he went down to see why. He saw his boiler on fire and put it out with a fire extinguisher. Minutes later, he heard a loud “Boom!” from his neighbor’s house and the ground shook. Thankfully, his three neighbors—a woman with two children—escaped the explosion even as their home went up in flames.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized. But the agency added that investigators were still examining the situation. Columbia had announced on Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state. It was not clear yet whether work had already begun in Lawrence and Andover, however.
(WCVB Photo via AP: Flames consume the roof of a home in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on Thursday. A series of gas explosions ignited at least 39 fires in several neighborhoods north of Boston.)