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NOTE: This story has been updated and expanded from a story first reported on Tuesday, October 24, 2017.
Ten Newtown Hook & Ladder and Botsford Fire Rescue volunteer firefighters responded at about 8:34 am on Tuesday, October 24, to a report of a brush fire in the area near 53 Cedar Hill Road.
While fire companies often respond to brush fires, this incident was unusual because that brush fire was apparently caused by a high-energy primary electric line that had fallen onto the street after having been hit by swaying tree branches during windy conditions.
Even more unusual was that a natural gas line leak then occurred and ignited, causing undulating flaming bursts of pressurized natural gas to jet upward 30 feet into the air. There were no injuries in the incident.
“This was unique,” said Hook & Ladder First Assistant Chief Jason Rivera, who served as incident commander on the fire call.
After arriving at the scene, firefighters called Eversource to report the downed electric lines so that technicians could be sent to deenergize those lines, Mr Rivera said. While standing by at the scene, firefighters then noticed the odor of gas and discovered gas leaking upward from beneath the street, he said. The asphalt on the street had been damaged by the fallen live electric line.
The pressurized gas escaping upward from beneath the street, by some means, then caught fire, Mr Rivera said. A four-inch-diameter Eversource gas line runs beneath the street to serve customers along Cedar Hill Road.
Fortunately, the fire did not occur near any houses. The fire damaged vegetation in an about 10,000-square-foot area that lies along both sides of the street, Mr Rivera said.
When considering the hazards posed by the situation, Mr Rivera ordered that all people within a 1,000-foot radius of the incident be evacuated. The town’s Code Red emergency notification system sent out messages to that effect to about 55 homes at about 9 am. Residents were allowed to return to their homes about noon.
Newtown police and the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps were called in to aid with the evacuation.
The section of Cedar Hill Road near the incident was closed to through-traffic during the incident, reopening at about 12:30 pm.
Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said October 24 that the incident resulted in 120 natural gas customers and 76 electric customers losing their service. Those electric customers had their service restored by 3 pm that day, he said.
Restoring gas service is more complex, requiring that technicians do a safety check and reignite pilot lights in individual buildings. As of 3 pm on October 25, Eversource was waiting to hear back from 12 gas customers, Mr Gross said. Those customers may contact Eversource at 877-944-5325 to schedule a technician’s visit, he said.
Mr Gross said that no definitive cause has been determined for the gas leak.
Newtown Bee Associate Editor Shannon Hicks contributed to the reporting of this story.