Lawrence gas explosion leaves 18-year-old dead after 70 homes burst into flames in Massachusetts

AN 18-YEAR-old man was killed and at least 10 others injured after a gas explosion sparked 70 blasts causing homes to go up in flames in Massachusetts last night.

Authorities said Leonel Rondon died after a chimney toppled by an exploding house fell on his car as blasts ripped through three neighbourhoods near Boston.

A gas explosion has sparked fires at multiple homes in Massachusetts on Thursday evening
AP:Associated Press

The teenager was taken to hospital but pronounced dead at 8.30pm, while 10 patients, including one in a critical condition, are being treated.

Residents were forced to flee homes as crews scrambled to douse the flames and shut off gas and electric lines to prevent any further damage.

Massachusetts State Police say officers were sent to Lawrence, Andover and North Andover shortly after reports of the first blast at around 5pm (10pm BST).

As the inferno raged, Joseph Solomon, the police chief in nearby Methuen, said that there were so many fires “you can’t even see the sky.”

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

Officers were called to reports of multiple blasts across three neighbourhoods north of Boston
AP:Associated Press
Police say dozens of homes were set on fire when a gas line ruptured
AP:Associated Press

“There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me. I could see pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said state and local authorities are investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers.

He said: “This is still very much an active scene. There will be plenty of time later tonight, tomorrow morning and into the next day to do some of the work around determining exactly what happened and why.”

Hours after the explosions, the utility’s parent company issued a brief statement saying its crews were still performing safety checks in the area.

This map shows the various reported fires across three communities in Massachusetts on Thursday
Homes have been devastated across the area north of Boston, Massachusetts
Dozens of blasts were reported in the area north of Boston at around 5pm local time on Thursday
AP:Associated Press

Indiana-based NiSource said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today’s incident. The first priority for our crews at the scene is to ensure the safety of our customers and the community.”

Baker previously said authorities hadn’t heard directly from Columbia Gas, but later called the company’s response “adequate.”

All of the fires had been doused late last night but many areas remained silent and dark after residents fled and after power companies cut electricity to prevent further fires.

Schools in all three communities were cancelled for Friday, and some schools were being used as shelters for residents.

Once cop said the sky was barely visible due to the smoke after dozens of fires were sparked
AP:Associated Press
Fire crews raced to the scene of multiple house fires in three communities just north of Boston on Thursday
AP:Associated Press
Residents were ordered to evacuate as the fires appeared to spread to neighbouring homes

Officials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, save for emergency vehicle lights.

Bruce Razin, who was among the evacuees and saw a neighbours house destroyed said: “I couldn’t imagine if that was my house.

“It’s total destruction. I’d be completely devastated.”

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurised but said investigators were still examining what happened.

Residents cover their face from the smoke while being evacuated from homes
AP:Associated Press
The streets around the affected communities were filled with smoke on Thursday after fires raged
AP:Associated Press
Firefighters work to douse flames at a house which caught alight after a gas explosion
AP:Associated Press
Fire crews had doused the flames by late Thursday night
Getty Images – Getty
Firefighters inspect a home after gas explosions in North Andover
Getty Images – Getty
Gas explosions in three communities north of Boston have left multiple homes on fire
Getty Images – Getty

The Columbia Gas company announced earlier on Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighbourhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened.

It was not clear whether work was happening there at the time, and a spokeswoman did not immediately comment.

Officers warned Columbia Gas customers in the area to evacuate their homes immediately while the company “despressurises” lines, which it expects will take some time.

Gas companies have shut off supplies in a bid to prevent further damage
AP:Associated Press
A nearby high school was set up as a refuge point for evacuated residents
AP:Associated Press

The town of 35,000 residents is about 26 miles north of Boston near the New Hampshire border.

In neighbouring North Andover, town Selectman Phil Decologero said that his entire neighbourhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter homes.

He said: “It’s definitely a scary situation at the moment. It’s pretty severe.”

He warned anyone with concerns to leave their houses and head to North Andover High School, which is being set up as a gathering point.

The devastating fires have already destroyed at least one home in North Andover
People too frightened to return to their homes were left standing on the streets, witnesses said
AP:Associated Press
Flames burn through a home in Lawrence, Mass, a suburb of Boston
Multiple fire trucks from surrounding communities arrive in Lawrence
AP:Associated Press

Aerial footage of the area showed some homes that appeared to be torn apart by blasts.

At one, the upper portion of a brick chimney crushed an SUV parked in the driveway.

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 26 miles north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border.

Lawrence, the largest of them, is a majority Latino city with a population of about 80,000.

Mayor Dan Rivera said: “Lawrence is a very resilient community. We’re going to get through this together.”

Emergency crews are responding to multiple fires across three communities in Massachusetts after a ‘gas explosion’
Boston 25
Aerial footage showed the devastation the fires were having as they ripped through homes
Boston 25

Gas explosions have claimed lives and destroyed property around the US in recent years.

A buildup of natural gas triggered an explosion and fire that killed seven people in apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 2016.

In 2014, a gas explosion in New York City’s East Harlem neighbourhood killed eight people and injured about 50.

Consolidated Edison later agreed to pay $153 million to settle charges after the state’s Public Service Commission found it had violated state safety regulations. A gas leak had been reported before that blast.

A 2011 natural gas explosion killed five people in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that state’s largest gas utility was fined by regulators who called the company’s safety record “downright alarming.”

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