Home explosion in Gypsum caused by gas leak prompts overnight evacuation | VailDaily.com

Home explosion in Gypsum caused by gas leak prompts overnight evacuation

House erupted in flames around 12:35 p.m. on Thursday

A gas leak caused an explosion and fire at a home in Gypsum's Chatfield Corners neighborhood. After an overnight evacuation, some residents were allowed to return home Friday afternoon.
Photo by Randy Wyrick

Update, 1:30 p.m.: Residents of Chatfield Corners Filing 2 will be allowed to return to their homes Sept. 18 after 3 p.m. Everything east of those streets can be accessed only under escort. There is still no electric service to the subdivision. Gypsum Assistant Town Manager Jim Hancock said there’s no estimated time to open the eastern portion of the subdivision, but it could possibly open “later today.”

At a 1 p.m. briefing about Thursday’s fire at a home in the subdivision, Gypsum Fire Protection District Chief Justin Kirkland said crews had been “working through the night” to secure the area.

The scene of the home fire, near the intersection of Valley Road and Cottonwood Pass Road, remains under investigation.

Dan Loya of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, that investigation is being aided by state and federal agencies. While the investigation continues, Black Hills Energy Operations Supervisor Tom Warnes said the leak was caused by a “third party.” That leak has been repaired, and the lines are being checked, he added.

Black Hills Energy is purging gas lines in the area. Warnes said there’s currently no natural gas saturation in the soil. The company is now pressure testing isolated sections.

Company spokeswoman Carly West said there are a few areas in the neighborhood around the fire have had to be excavated to check both lines and saturation. Landscapers will be hired to repair landscaping damaged for that work.

Holy Cross Energy Vice President of Operations Rick Arnhold said since electric lines are buried in the subdivision, that utility is checking the conduit through which those lines run in order to ensure there’s no gas there, either.

Residents who want an escort into the subdivision should go to the Gypsum Recreation Center. Escorts will be conducted until 8 p.m.

GYPSUM (9:30 p.m.) — One person is missing after her house erupted in a midday blaze sparked by a gas leak in a subdivision on the south side of town.

The house was still burning in spots Thursday evening and investigators could not get into the site, Eagle County Undersheriff Mike McWilliam said.

What officials think happened

The ground around the house was “saturated” with gas, apparently from a gas leak in a two-inch line caused two days ago by a crew boring in the ground to install fiber optic cable. That leak did not cause any smell, so it went unreported, said Incident Commander Tim Lavin with the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District.

Gas from that leak pooled under the ground around it, Lavin said. Chatfield Corners residents called in a gas leak at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Crews caused another gas leak Thursday morning, Lavin said.

At 12:35 p.m. the home at the corner of Valley Road and Cottonwood Pass Road erupted, reducing it to ashes in minutes as smoke rose hundreds of feet into the air.

The explosion, a loud “whooom” neighbors said, followed the electricity being knocked out in the area. Seconds later the house burst into flames, rattling windows and vibrating walls around the area.

Crews from all over Eagle County and the region responded to the fire, from as far away as Aspen and Vail, containing it to the single home.

Sheriff’s Office deputies and utility company crews evacuated the Chatfield Corners neighborhood to the Gypsum Recreation Center.

Emergency workers and utility company crews decided it was too dangerous to let people in the eastern end of the subdivision — near the gas leak and explosion — back in to gather personal belongings or tend to pets, McWilliam told Chatfield Corners residents at a Thursday evening meeting at the Eagle Valley High School football field.

Residents at the western end of the subdivision were allowed back in to collect some of their belongings, but then had to leave.

“If you live in the east end, the gas company has told us it’s too dangerous to go to your house,” McWilliam said.

The gas leak was “mitigated,” Lavin said, but gas has saturated the ground around the leak.

Because the electricity line feeds under the gas line, power to the entire subdivision was shut off, Lavin said.

They hope to mitigate it by sometime Friday, Lavin said.

“We’re planning to work through the night,” Lavin said. “It’s a pretty big problem.”

People evacuated who needed lodging were put in contact with the Red Cross, who put them in the Eagle Lodge.

Gypsum Mayor Steve Carver thanked the crowd for its attention and cooperation.

“There are nothing but professionals on site. Everyone is working to the fullest extent of their ability” Carver said. “Law enforcement will stay on the scene through the night, and this will be taken care of as soon as possible.”

Crews found an “extremely abnormal amount” of gas in the ground, Lavin said.

To look for more gas and possible saturation, crews will bore test holes into the ground around the more-than 80 homes in the eastern end of Chatfield Corners, Lavin said.

Students and teachers at nearby Red Hill Elementary watched emergency personnel respond to the fire from the front of the school Thursday afternoon while a cloud of black smoke billowed into the sky.

The two schools were released early, according to Dan Dougherty, the school district’s chief communications officer. The schools are requesting that parents that can come and pick up their children do so. Afternoon bus transportation will occur on its regular schedule.

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