Thrown into chaos: Natural-gas explosion in GJ is top story of 2013

Stunned evacuees head for safety across the lawn of a house at 1742 N. Seventh Street after the home beside it exploded following a breach of a major natural gas line in the area in this March photo. The fire eventually spread to the gray house, destroying it.


The rest of the list

■ No. 2: Heather Jensen arrested; case against her built

■ No. 3: Mixed bag of news at Grand Junction Regional Airport

■ No. 4: Rick Brainard saga

■ No. 5: Robert Dewey paid for 17 years of wrongful imprisonment

■ No. 6: Costly and controversial school board election

■ No. 7: Avalon Theatre wins support for renovation, expansion

■ No. 8: Restrictive gun laws passed in Denver

■ No. 9; Natural gas liquids spill into Parachute Creek

■ No. 10: Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce gets political

Just outside the Top 10

■ Jason Kemp settlement: The ACLU announces the state settles for 
$1 million with the family of Jason Kemp, the unarmed Grand Junction man fatally shot by a State Patrol trooper in 2010. The settlement also calls for more Fourth Amendment training for State Patrol officers. The chief of the CSP resigned five days after the settlement was publicized.

■ TABOR investigation: Former Mesa County finance employees raise questions about how the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County excluded sales tax revenue from TABOR limitations, among other calculations. Mesa County reverses its position and decides to include that revenue in future calculations, while the city of Grand Junction holds firm. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation opens a probe, but the county says it determined there was no criminal wrongdoing.

■ Monument park status: Colorado Sens. Udall and Bennet announce that citizens will craft legislation that would convert Colorado National Monument into a national park. Discussion and debate continue in multiple venues throughout the year.

Of all the local stories detailed in the pages of The Daily Sentinel in 2013, one stood at the top of the list, as determined by staffers in the Sentinel newsroom.

A late winter afternoon swiftly turned to chaos when a construction worker nicked a natural gas line, causing a leak that ignited, burned three people, demolished their rental home and incinerated the home next door in what would be one of Grand Junction’s most-involved emergency incidents.

A natural gas explosion near Seventh Street and Orchard Avenue on March 19 is this year’s No. 1 story.

All told, evacuations included residents of 187 homes, students of nearby schools and workers in businesses in a 10-block radius of the explosion site at 1752 N. Seventh St. The explosion ignited the home at 1742 N. Seventh St., also destroying it.

Eight people who lived in the two homes were displaced. Three victims in the incident have lodged lawsuits against the city; Xcel Energy; the city-hired contractor, Apeiron Utility Construction LLC; and Safe Site, an agency that locates utility lines.

At 11:39 a.m. on March 19, a city-hired construction worker with Apeiron was boring into the intersection at Seventh Street and Orchard Avenue, working on a project to update traffic lights at the intersection. The worker called 911 reporting that a gas line had been hit. He later reported he was attempting to drill underneath — at 60 inches — where two gas lines reportedly were located. Those two lines were identified as being 27 inches and 30 inches deep. However, one of those two located gas lines was abandoned and the worker struck an undisclosed, deeper 6-inch gas line that solely serviced Colorado Mesa University.

Emergency maneuvers and calls to residents were made almost immediately, but an hour and nine minutes after the line was breached, after natural gas seeped into the city’s sewer system, the home at 1752 N. Seventh St. exploded. Three residents were blown out of the house. Flames from that home quickly burned down the home next door, at 1742 N. Seventh St.

Natural gas poured out of the breached pipe for a little more than two hours before an Xcel employee was able to turn off the main gas line, according to a city-compiled timeline.

In the following days, students of Tope Elementary School were evacuated. City workers and Xcel employees helped determine whether nearby residents could return to their homes. The city paid for some residents to stay in local hotels during the evacuation and local businesses and relief agencies stepped up to provide food and other amenities for displaced residents. For weeks, city workers monitored the gas levels in the area, but it wouldn’t be until a month and a half later, on May 9, that city workers drew negative readings for lingering amounts of natural gas in the area.

Because of the incident, the city now requires any contractor attempting to bore across the sewer system to provide video of the sewer main and its condition immediately after installing new utilities.

Grand Junction reports that Xcel now will treat its intermediate pressure lines like its high-pressure lines, that the company is requiring more documentation before utility work is performed, and that a representative from its newly formed company, Site Wise, must view work prior to boring.


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