Published: Fri, September 14, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

Fires, explosions erupt in multiple U.S. towns near Boston

Fires, explosions erupt in multiple U.S. towns near Boston

A wave of gas explosions and fires tore through neighborhoods in three Merrimack Valley communities Thursday night, forcing thousands of residents from their homes, leaving dozens injured and one teen killed.

Eighteen-year-old Leonel Rondon died when his vehicle was crushed by a falling chimney, a spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney's office said.

Ra Nam (right), with his sons Evan (left) and Tristan (center), wait in a parking lot outside their Colonial Heights neighborhood in Lawrence, Mass., which was evacuated Thursday because of the fires and explosions.

The residents of the three communities north of Boston, serviced by Columbia Gas, have been ordered to evacuate after a reported gas line rupture triggered a series of violent explosions. In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighbourhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter their homes.

More than three dozen homes went up in flames Monday when fires and explosions erupted in northern MA in what were believed to be gas-related incidents, authorities said. All of those fires have been extinguished, but at peak, 18 fires were burning at the same time.

The cause of the explosions wasn't immediately clear.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed over-pressurized gas lines for starting the fires, but officials on the scene are still investigating.

At least one person has died and 12 people have been injured in the explosions.

Residents in the area who have service from Columbia Gas "should evacuate their homes immediately", state police said. Six people were being treated at Lawrence General Hospital, spokeswoman Jill McDonald Halsey said. (Mary Schwalm/AP) Lawrence residents stop to take photos of a house on Bowdoin Street in Lawrence Friday.

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"Columbia Gas is investigating what happened on its system today", NiSource spokesman Ken Stammen said.

The state police said gas lines are now being depressurized by the company but warned that may take some time. "What we need folks to do is that if it's happening in your home, you have a amusing smell, just evacuate, come out to the street", he said.

"It was very scary", she said.

Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon says there are so many fires "you can't even see the sky", while Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque said he's "never seen anything like this".

A gas explosion destroyed this home in Lawrence, Sept. 13, 2018.

State and local officials said at a news conference minutes earlier that they had still not heard from Columbia Gas following the fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 26 miles (40 kilometres) 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.

Liberty Utilities spokesperson John Shore said the company has on-call technicians standing ready to help Columbia Gas.

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