A gas explosion resulting in a large open fire occurred in Nyack on Thursday, June 21 while Raines & Welsh & Sons, contractors of Orange & Rockland Utilities, were working on a gas main replacement project.
By Sunday, June 24, the intersection of North Broadway and First Avenue in Nyack was cleaned up: the giant hole in the ground was closed, parking returned to normal and power and gas services were brought back to the local residents.
O&R restored natural gas service by 5 p.m. on Sunday to 349 of the 386 services that were shut down in order to extinguish the fire. The 37 remaining services will be restored as soon as O&R is permitted access into those buildings to relight the pilot lights.
O&R claimed the fire lasted two hours while Nyack Fire Department has said it blazed for four hours.
The explosion occurred at approximately 4:15 p.m. at the corner of North Broadway and First Avenue. The West Haverstraw contractors had put a stopper in place, a 12-inch canvas balloon that is used to stop the flow of gas through the pipes and allow workers to safely operate on the pipes. However, the stopper failed. And as they used power tools to smooth the end of the pipe for a cap fitting, the sparks ignited the fire and caused the explosion.
There were a couple of minor injuries, according to Nyack Fire Chief Jim Petriello, but no one sustained serious injuries and no buildings were destroyed.
Five contractors were taken to the hospital for heat stroke and there were some minor injures among the fire fighters.
The Victoria Mews building, located at 50 North Broadway, was the only one damaged by water pressure from the fire hoses. It is currently being repaired. Several neighboring trees caught fire briefly and suffered minor damage.
Investigations are in progress as to why the stopper failed, according to O&R spokesperson Michael Donovan.
“Everything was done according to standard operating procedure,” said Donovan.
And the reason it took hours before the fire was gone, he said, is because “you want the gas to burn off so that it doesn’t pool underground and migrate elsewhere. You don’t want excess gas just sitting somewhere.”
The variables, according to Donovan, include the length and size of the pipes, distance from the master valve and the location of the fire.
Petriello confirmed, “there is no way to put out a gas fire, you need to let it burn itself off.
“It did take them [O&R] some time to figure out which valves they needed to shut off,” Petriello said. However, once the pipes connecting to the area where the fire was were closed off, the fire just needed to burn until there was no more gas feeding it.
Concerned residents, neighbors and passersby crowded the streets behind the yellow tape.
According to Peter Danish, who’s lived in Victoria Mews for almost 20 years, “We smelled gas earlier today while having coffee at Runcible Spoon across the street, but it didn’t blow until hours later.”
A handful of elderly live in Victoria Mews, said Danish.
“We’re going to reach out to all their families and inform that,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll find places for everyone to stay tonight. The whole building uses electricity, which is good in situations like this, but means we have no power at all now.”
Donovan assured that O&R is working over-time to ensure that power is brought back as soon as possible to the almost 500 customers who lost service.
And as soon as more is learned from the investigations, things may (or may not) change as to how workers go about working on gas lines. According to Donovan, “Based on the outcome of the investigations we’ll adopt further safety procedures.”