Lewisville gas explosion compared to 2008 fatal blast

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on January 16, 2013 at 11:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 16 at 11:33 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

LEWISVILLE — Although the investigation into Friday's fatal gas explosion in Lewisville is just beginning, some say the accident has troubling similarities to another blast in 2008:

  • a ruptured gas line
  • a failure to evacuate nearby homes
  • a fatal explosion more than an hour after the gas company was notified about the leak

It was May 16, 2008. A contractor in a McKinney neighborhood accidentally struck a three-inch underground gas main.

More than an hour passed, and no homes had been evacuated when, suddenly — first one, then another exploded.

Enough gas had migrated underground to fill the homes and ignite.

Attorney Clay Miller represented one of the homeowners who suffered life-threatening burns. "He was never warned. No one ever knocked on his door and said there was a leak,” Miller said. “No one ever said, 'You may need to evacuate your house.' He was given no warning."

Atmos Energy and its contractor were fined $80,000 by the state after the 2008 incident. Company president John Paris told the public at the time, "Atmos is obligated to learn and prevent this in the future."

Now — four-and-a-half years later in Lewisville — a very similar set of circumstances has taken place.

An electric company crew digging a hole struck an even larger, four-inch gas main.

Firefighters evacuated homes downwind of the severed pipe, but 55-year-old Scott Deahl was allowed to stay in his home just 50 feet away, upwind from the leak.

More than two hours passed before his house exploded.

Three days later, Deahl died.

Lewisville Fire Department officials said they evacuated homes based only on wind patterns. They said they were never told by Atmos of a potential underground gas migration threat.

Atmos was warned by state officials in 2008 about the underground migration threat. "The sewer system is a critical system that must be checked for gas migration, because it has a direct path to homes," according to the Railroad Commission of Texas.

"The lesson that Atmos should have learned was: Even if you have a leak that is far away from a structure, that gas will tend to find its way through sewer lines, water lines, sewer clean outs and find its way in and under these buildings," Miller said.

The cause of last Friday’s explosion is still under investigation and no determination has been made about how the gas traveled the short distance to Deahl's home.

Atmos workers were testing the ground for gas before the explosion, according to Lewisville Fire Department officials.

Atmos officials said their investigation continues, and the company dismisses any connection to the 2008 McKinney explosion.

"Each incident is unique in nature, and the circumstances of one event cannot be compared to another — particularly when third parties are involved," said Atmos spokeswoman Jennifer Ryan.

Third-party gas line ruptures and leaks are very common, and a big problem. If one occurs within feet or even a few hundred yards of your home and you know about it, don't wait to be evacuated. Open windows, get to fresh air, and wait until authorities tell you the coast is clear.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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