1 dead, 10 injured in MA house fires after gas line issue

Nearly 40 fires and explosions erupt in Massachusetts

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A series of gas explosions has ignited fires in dozens of homes in MA - killing one person and injuring at least 12 others.

All that changed in the aftermath of Thursday's gas explosions across three suburbs north of Boston that left at least one person dead, injured at least a dozen more, and drove thousands from their homes.

"I have been in the fire service for nearly 39 years and I have never seen anything like this in my entire career", Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael Mansfield said.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized but said investigators were still examining what happened, ABC affiliate WCVB in Boston reported. "And I fully understand that there are times when you don't know a lot, there are times when you are still trying to gather information".

A company spokesman said: "Columbia Gas is investigating what happened on its system today".

State Police estimated up to 38 homes were destroyed by the explosions and fires.

"I can't think of a series of natural gas-related incidents like this", McCown, who led PHMSA under President George W. Bush, told Reuters by telephone. "We have had similar issues on a much smaller scale".

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said it would likely take investigators some time to examine the pipeline's design, maintenance and upgrades.

North Andover town manager Andrew Maylor said in a press conference that "no timeline has been set" on when residents with natural gas can return home.

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Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, save for emergency vehicle lights. "I could see pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover".

In more densely populated Lawrence, the process of inspecting and clearing buildings is more complicated and being done in concert with electrical utilities, Mayor Dan Rivera said.

Lawrence General Hospital announced this afternoon that one patient remains in serious condition from Thursday's gas explosion and fires.

Andover fire chief Michael Mansfield said: "It looked like Armageddon, it really did".

And he warned: "This event is not over tonight. This event will probably go on". Some 50 fire departments responded to the emergency, said John McArdle, fire chief of Plaistow, New Hampshire, which sent a tower ladder and engine crew to the scene.

Officials said that between 60 and 80 fires and a number of explosions broke out in homes and businesses in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, which are located around 30 miles (45km) north of Boston.

Before gas explosions in MA sent its shares reeling on Friday, utility NiSource Inc (NI.N) was considered a secure play and its top investor was loading up on shares as part of a push into what it called "the safest, most defensive sector in the S&P 500".

Hundreds of residents have been told to evacuate their homes and there is a strong smell of gas in their air. By later in the evening, gas meters had been shut off by Columbia Gas at about 8,600 meters, and residents were ordered to evacuate their homes.

"The administration urges residents to heed instructions from local officials for important public safety announcements, including evacuations and suspending gas usage".

"Unlike other gas utility explosions that unfortunately occur every few years, this one appears to have been caused by the utility working on the gas lines immediately before the explosions occurred", the analysts said.

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