Natural Gas Fire Burns Buildings, Police Car; No Injuries Reported

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) - A ruptured natural gas line created a wind-swept fireball that sent flames more than 150 feet into the air and damaged buildings at a commercial intersection in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights.

The fire lasted less than one hour Monday afternoon and burned out when the gas was shut off, said Dominion East Ohio Gas spokesman Neil Durbin. There were no injuries.

People from about 100 homes and businesses had to be evacuated, and all were allowed to return by Tuesday, a police dispatcher said.

The Red Cross set up a shelter in the gymnasium of Maple Heights High School for residents left without electric power or natural gas for heat. The power was back on Tuesday for the 1,900 FirstEnergy customers who lost power.

A police car and a piece of heavy equipment near the scene were engulfed in flames and the fire scorched two nearby buildings.

An excavation crew hit a water line and the gushing water undermined supports for an adjacent 20-inch natural gas pressure line that ruptured. A transformer spark was suspected as the ignition source.

The force of the initial fireball could be felt hundreds of feet away by a news helicopter crew filming the scene. On the ground, the heat from the flames could be felt more than one block away.

Jacquilyn Maddox, who lives in a house about 100 yards from the fire scene, was in a nearby parking lot when she first smelled gas. She immediately drove home and minutes later saw the fire in the sky above some trees in this community alongside Interstate 480.

"It was very frightening and very upsetting. You could just smell the gas and then all of the sudden there was the fire," Maddox said. "You could feel the heat. So I just got in my car and got out of here."

The fire burned the front of a pharmacy and part of another nearby building.

Inmates in the city jail, located less than one block from the fire scene, were taken by bus to a jail in an adjacent community.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)