Gas leak triggers house explosion; schools evacuated
Update 6:15 p.m.
Residents living south of Elm Avenue in previously evacuated areas near today’s explosion will be allowed back in their homes, effective immediately, Police Chief John Camper told a press conference tonight.
Moreover, those living north of Elm Avenue up to Orchard Avenue, and between Cannell Avenue to the alley behind Seventh Street, will also be allowed back in homes although they are likely to be without power, Camper said.
“We’re certainly willing to let people make their own decisions on whether or not they can go without power for tonight,” the chief said.
Camper said recent readings for gas on manhole covers indicates “the only real danger zone continues to be right at Seventh and Orchard,” he said.
Colorado Mesa University is currently without gas service, while some 104 buildings are without power, officials said.
Seventy-five homes are expected to remain evacuated overnight within the following boundaries: Both sides of Seventh Street from Elm to Walnut Avenue, and Orchard Avenue to Walnut between Sixth and Eighth streets.
The American Red Cross Western Colorado Chapter has established an evacuation center in the parking lot of Grand Junction High School, 1400 N. Fifth St., to help anyone displaced by evacuation orders or the initial fire.
Update 4:47 p.m.
Two of the three victims of the house explosion and fire were admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital for evaluation. The third has been released.
Update 4 p.m.
Residents who have been evacuated and need a temporary place to use facilities can go to Grand Junction High School. If the evacuations persist, GJHS will open as a shelter.
Xcel Energy and Grand Junction Fire Department crews are removing manhole covers to release the gas from the sewer system. Grand Junction Police Department officers are going door-to-door to make sure people have been evacuated.
School District 51 don’t expect classes to be canceled tomorrow, but school officials will notify parents later if that changes, according to the Mesa County Communications Officers’ Association.
Update 3:58 p.m.
Police say they hope to get people living in the mandatory evacuation zone back into their homes this evening.
Update 3:14 p.m.
A news conference to update the media is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Grand Junction High School.
Update 3:10 p.m.
The evacuation zone has expanded to Sixth Street to Ninth Street from west to east and Bookcliff Avenue to North Avenue from north to south. Evacuated residents in need of a place to meet up or use the bathroom can go to Grand Junction High School.
Update 3:01 p.m.
Grand Junction police issued a news release indicating that Grand Junction fire crews were working with Xcel Energy crews on the gas leak when firefighters spotted a fire inside 1752 N. Seventh St. and called for more units. As firefighters were responding, the home exploded. Three people who were inside at the time of the explosion received significant injuries.
The fire spread to 1742 N. Seventh St. and is being fought from the outside only.
Seventh Street is shut down between Patterson Road and North Avenue. Xcel has shut off gas to the area and is now assessing the extent of the outage.
Update 2:52 p.m.
Tope Elementary School students will be supervised until 4 p.m. today at West Middle School. Parents should pick up kids there. Bring a photo ID to pick up students, according to District 51.
Update 2:36 p.m.
Fire Department spokesman Mike Page confirms the house that exploded is at 1752 N. Seventh St. and the second house that caught on fire is immediately to the south at 1742 N. Seventh St.
Update 2:29 p.m.
Tope Elementary School students were bussed to West Middle School and are being kept in the gymnasium there until their parents arrive. Parents must show identification to check out their children.
Update 2:07 p.m.
Authorities report Little Lambs Learning Center, 880 Mesa Ave., has been evacuated. Staff and children have been moved to Colorado Mesa University’s Fine Arts Building, which is off Houston Avenue.
Update 2:03 p.m.
Police report there are still people inside Tope Elementary and are asking it to be fully evacuated as soon as possible.
Update 1:42 p.m.
A second house at 1742 N. Seventh St. has caught on fire.
Update 1:29 p.m.
Grand Junction Fire Department spokesman Mike Page confirms three people were taken to St. Mary’s Hospital with burn injuries. Parents of Grand Junction High School students should go to Sherwood Park to check on and pick up their children. Tope Elementary students are being evacuated to West Middle School.
Police and emergency responders are evacuating homes and businesses in two blocks in every direction around North Seventh Street and Orchard Avenue this afternoon following a house explosion triggered by a large natural gas leak.
Grand Junction High School was being evacuated at roughly 1:15 p.m. Tope Elementary School also is being evacuated.
Police scanner reports indicate the house, south of the intersection of Seventh and Orchard, exploded around 12:50 p.m. The address of the house is believed to be 1752 N. Seventh St. Officials were concerned that more houses could ignite and are going door-to-door to tell people to evacuate.
A Daily Sentinel reporter and photographer at the scene indicated at least two people may have been taken to the hospital with burns, although that information couldn’t immediately be confirmed.
Witnesses reported smelling a strong odor of natural gas in the neighborhood prior to the explosion.
Authorities are asking people to avoid the area of Seventh and Orchard for the next several hours.
Check back with GJSentinel.com for updates and read the full story in Wednesday’s Daily Sentinel.