Published 8:14 PM EDT Sep 13, 2018
More than 30 house fires caused by suspected gas leaks erupted around Lawrence, Massachusetts, Thursday, causing confusion, chaos and at least four injuries.
Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon says there were 20 to 25 homes on fire in Lawrence. Solomon said there were so many fires “you can’t even see the sky.”
At least four people are being treated for injuries. Lawrence General Hospital says it has treated four victims with fire-related injuries but did not immediately release their conditions or the severity.
State Police say at least 39 fires erupted Thursday afternoon in the communities of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. It's unclear how many of the fires were in homes or other locations.
Andover officials said in a statement Thursday night that all 35 fires in the town have been extinguished. At the peak of the situation, they say 18 fires were burning at the same time in Andover.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized, but officials who responded to the area were still investigating the cause. State officials said Columbia Gas was working to ease pressure on gas lines following the fires.
Columbia had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not immediately return calls.
Reached by phone, some local officials described scenes of panic as residents rushed to evacuate, many wondering if their homes would be next to erupt in flames. In North Andover, town selectman Phil Decologero said his entire neighborhood had gathered in the street, afraid to enter their homes. Just a few streets down, he said, homes were burning.
“It’s definitely a scary situation at the moment,” he said. “It’s pretty severe.”
Lawrence resident Ra Nam says he was in his yard when the smoke detector in his basement went off around 4:30 p.m. He ran to his basement and found that the room was glowing.
Nam says that his boiler was on fire. He says he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out.
Minutes later, Nam says he heard a loud boom come from his neighbor’s house and the ground shook. Nam said a woman and two kids had made it out of the house, but the basement was on fire.
Residents in several communities that are serviced by Columbia Gas were urged to evacuate.
The three communities that have so far been affected by the leaks house more than 146,000 residents.
The Massachusetts State Police said it responded to at least 17 separate reports of fires or explosions and reported "numerous evacuations of neighborhoods where there are gas odors are underway. "
Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque told The Eagle-Tribune that he’s “never seen anything like this.”
Lawrence is about 30 miles north of Boston near the New Hampshire state line.
CONTRIBUTING: Associated Press