A series of explosions and fires, believed to have involved at least one natural gas leak, tore through the Boston suburbs of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover late Thursday afternoon. Initial, unconfirmed, reports stated that an “overpressure” situation with a gas line may have started a chain reaction of explosions and subsequent fires.
In an overpressure accident one gas line will rupture, usually after being damaged during earlier construction work. Once that rupture occurs, automatic safety valves will shut down flow through the damaged line but the diversion of gas flow from the damaged line will cause pressure in the undamaged lines to rise until, eventually, another gas leak develops and explosively ignites. When that leak ignites, it causes another safety valve to close which causes another overpressure in another line in a cascading sequence unless gas flow into the entire network is shut down.
Sources at CNN and Washington Post quoted Carrie Kimball-Monahan, a spokeswoman with the Essex County (MA) District Attorney’s office, as saying that one of those injured, identified as Leonel Rondon, 18, had died from injuries suffered in the explosions after he had been transported to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston..
The Massachusetts State Police reported that its dispatchers had received between 60 and 100 reports of gas explosions and structural fires, most involving residential areas. Fire crews, some from as far away as 40 to 50 miles, were involved in fighting “multiple” simultaneous house fires as night descended onto the area.
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At this time it is, of course, far too early to speculate as to what set yesterday’s disaster into motion. However, early evidence such as the fire and explosion patterns strongly suggest that an overpressure event developed at some unknown point on the local natural gas distribution network. Until that position is identified, and automatic data recordings can be evaluated, the issue of what will undoubtedly be a potential multi-million-dollar liability will remain unresolved.
At the Doan Law Firm, we will monitor the media for future developments in this tragedy and will post updates as they become available.