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NH firms say gas lines here are safe

By TODD FEATHERS
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 16. 2018 12:17AM
A neighbor looks at a home burned in a series of gas explosions in Lawrence, Mass. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
How to help in the Lawrence area
Relief efforts have sprung up to support those impacted across Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.

Here are official funds and organizations that you can support to help those in need:

• The North Shore-Merrimack Valley Relief Fund. Donations can be made at any Eastern Bank location.

• The American Red Cross Disaster Relief. $10 donations can be sent by calling 800-RED-CROSS or by texting REDCROSS to 90999.

• The Salvation Army Massachusetts Emergency Disaster Services. Mail checks to Salvation Army, Attn: Massachusetts EDS, 25 Shawmut Road, Canton, MA 02021.

• The Greater Lawrence Relief Fund. TD Charitable Foundation and United Way teamed up to create this fund; donations can be made online at unitedwaymassbay.org/lawrencerelief.

• The Lawrence Emergency Fund, via the Essex County Community Foundation. Online at eccf.org/lawrenceemergencyfund.



As hundreds of utility workers continued the slow process of checking more than 8,500 gas meters after a string of fires and explosions rocked northern Massachusetts Thursday night, companies in New Hampshire reassured customers that their gas lines are safe.

Eversource, Unitil and Liberty Utilities all said their distribution lines are not connected to the Columbia Gas system.

Massachusetts emergency management officials said Friday there were 60 to 80 structure fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, at homes serviced by Columbia Gas.

The fires injured more than two dozen people and caused one death.

"Nothing like what's been reported there has ever occurred on our system," said Alec O'Meara, media relations manager for Unitil.

"Last night, we did a whole system check to make sure our system is operating normally, and it is," he said. "We have multiple safeguards in place and we have two separate fail-safes in place to make sure our system is safe."

Liberty Utilities said in a statement that it monitors its lines around the clock and is not experiencing any issues.

Eversource reported normal operations and said in its statement it had conducted a "safety stand down this morning with all of our gas crews to reinforce our commitment to safety and our gas operating procedures."

The cause of the Massachusetts fires remains under investigation, but Bay State officials said it appears to be related to overpressurization in the gas-distribution system in the area.

"Gas is under certain working pressure in the main lines but when it comes into your house it's reduced ... so that it can be handled by the equipment in your house," said Mark Sullivan, a certified fire investigator. "If you get too much pressure somewhere along the line, it blows by" the safety valves where gas enters the house.

When household devices with pilot lights - like a gas stove - start receiving gas at a higher pressure than they were designed for, it can lead to fire.

When there is no immediate source of ignition, the gas can build up until a spark causes an explosion, such as those seen in the Merrimack Valley on Thursday, Sullivan said.

Massachusetts agencies and the federal National Transportation Safety Board are conducting the investigation.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt on Saturday said his agency would conduct a thorough review of Columbia Gas' records and safety procedures. Of particular interest is a pressure increase recorded at a pipeline controller's console in Columbus, Ohio, he added. The NTSB plans to interview the pipeline controller and download data about the event.

Frustrated with a lack of information from Columbia Gas, Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker has placed Eversource in charge of checking individual meters and ensuring homes are safe.

Eversource said in its statement it has dispatched 133 people, two emergency communications trailers and a mobile command unit to assist in the operation.

Liberty Utilities also has sent crews to help.

Saturday morning, utility workers were gradually clearing streets in the three affected communities so residents could return to their homes.

Officials continued to urge homeowners in the area not to turn their gas back on if it had been turned off.

Several homeowners outside the North Andover fire station on Friday said they had not known how to turn their gas off when the fires started.

In most homes, there is a valve on the meter outsidethat can be turned with a wrench to stop gas flow.

Eversource urged its customers to make sure there is a clear path to their outdoor meters.

O'Meara said gas leaks can be detected by the rotten-egg smell caused by an additive in the gas, the sound of hissing from devices that use gas, or a shimmer in the air.

"If you do suspect a gas leak you should, step one, immediately leave the area, and step two, call your utility," O'Meara said.

A crew from Columbia Gas of Massachusetts works in a neighborhood evacuated following gas explosions in Lawrence. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)


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