Gas explosions drive thousands out of homes in Boston suburbs

Nearly 40 fires and explosions erupt in Massachusetts

At about 11 p.m. ET Thursday, troopers in helicopter MSP Air 5 of the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing "were working over Lawrence, providing overwatch support during the ongoing response after the gas explosions and fires", officials said.

Gov. Charlie Baker said state and local authorities were investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers, acknowledging the "massive inconvenience" for those displaced by the explosions. At least one person was killed in the explosions and several injured.

Fire investigators suspected "over-pressurization of a gas main" belonging to Columbia Gas of MA led to the series of explosions and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told a news conference.

Two people, including a firefighter, sustained non-life-threatening injuries, said town spokesman John Guilfoil. It was not immediately clear if those were separate from the victims treated at Lawrence General.

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.

The incident forced National Grid to cut power to all three communities, leaving an estimated 18,000 people in the dark.

Lawrence City Councillor Marc Laplante said "people need to get out ..."

An 18-year-old man was in a auto in Lawrence in a driveway when a house exploded, the chimney landed on the vehicle and the victim was pronounced dead. At peak, 18 fires were burning at the same time.

A man whose neighborhood was among dozens that erupted in fire in communities north of Boston says he ran into his basement to find that the room was glowing.

Officials say an issue with a high pressure gas main has affected Lawrence, North Andover and Andover. He says he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out.

Merrimack College, which is located in North Andover, advised that "in an over abundance of caution", students and faculty needed to evacuate all buildings on campus, but later said all buildings were "safe for re-entry".

Officials were also shutting down power in the three towns, Massachusetts State Police said Thursday evening. At least 25 other people reportedly were injured.

Residents in those areas with homes that are serviced by Columbia gas have been urged to evacuate. Officials said dozens of fires and explosions were reported after an apparent gas line problem.

- 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". The town of 35,000 residents is about 40 kilometres north of Boston near the New Hampshire border. Anyone in those towns who has gas service from Columbia Gas should leave their homes until further notice.

Columbia had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. A company spokeswoman did not immediately provide comment. "Number will grow. New responses ongoing".

Firefighters battle a house fire in North Andover, Mass., one of a series of fires and explosions on Thursday thought to have been triggered by a gas line that feeds several communities north of Boston.

"It looked like Armageddon, it really did", Andover Fire Rescue Chief Michael B. Mansfield said. Solomon told reporters there were so many fires "you can't even see the sky".

"Gas lines are now being depressurized by the company; it will take some time". Authorities are evacuating residents from parts of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

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