Gas line severed; fire, flood come next
A Grand Junction homeowner digging a trench to install an irrigation line in his backyard accidentally hit a gas line Sunday afternoon, sparking a fire that burned for hours and created a spectacle in a downtown neighborhood.
The residents at 1052 Chipeta Ave. got a double-whammy from the broken gas line, as water sprayed by the Grand Junction Fire Department flooded the basement of the home.
A man was using a trencher to lay irrigation pipe when he severed a 1 1/4-inch line around 1:40 p.m., according to Fire Department Battalion Chief John Williams and Xcel Energy spokesman Fred Eggleston.
The man heard the gas shooting out of the line and retreated to his front yard when a fire ignited, perhaps from the escaping gas coming into contact with the hot exhaust of the trencher, Williams said.
The fire engulfed the trencher and burned a fence backing up to an alley on the north side of the property.
A total of 19 Fire Department personnel responded to the scene and found flames shooting 12 to 14 feet high, Williams said. Firefighters poured water on the trencher, the fence, a backyard shed and nearby trees but otherwise let the fire burn because that kept the gas close and allowed them to know exactly where the gas was.
Firefighters figured if they had extinguished the fire, the gas could have spread undetected to other homes, Williams said.
Xcel crews had to dig up a portion of the alley to get to the line, and the gas wasn’t shut off until 4:20 p.m., Williams said.
The fire didn’t cause any injuries or damage any structures, but some of the 300 to 400 gallons of water firefighters were dumping each minute found its way into the home’s basement, creating a knee-deep pool at one point, Williams said. An emergency water cleanup crew was at the house for several hours.
Xcel spokesman Fred Eggleston said he didn’t know whether the homeowner called before digging to find utility lines in the area, but he said crews didn’t see any locator marks for the gas line in the backyard.
Police and firefighters shut down Gunnison Avenue at 11th Street to access the nearest fire hydrant and Chipeta between 10th and 11th streets.
According to Mesa County assessor records, the home is owned by Robert Talbert. A phone number for Talbert couldn’t be found.