Blast sent roommates through roof

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/The Daily Sentinel—The remains of a home on North Seventh Street that was destroyed by a natural-gas explosion are shown Wednesday.

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/The Daily Sentinel—People huddle around Fred Eggleston, an Xcel Energy area manager, in the parking lot of Seventh-day Adventist Church, 730 Mesa Ave., on Wednesday morning, waiting for word of when they could return to their homes.


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Hamburgers and hot dogs are on the menu Saturday in a benefit with proceeds to go to displaced victims of Tuesday’s explosion and fire. Kevin Kees, regional vice president of Primerica Financial Services, 1119 N. First St., Suite F, said his office will host the benefit from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Donations also will be accepted during office hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Kees said any donation that may require after-hours contact can be arranged by calling him directly at 970-250-9382. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ chapter at CMU identified the five people who lived at 1742 N. Seventh St. and were displaced by fire after flames had spread from nearby 1752 N. Seventh St., which was rocked around 12:45 p.m. by an explosion that injured three people.

Kolby Gimmeson on Wednesday had only his keys and wallet after he was nearly blown away the day before.

Sifting through charred wood and twisted metal at 1752 N. Seventh St., following his release from St. Mary’s Hospital, Gimmeson found half of his backpack, a bottle of shampoo, a prized tapestry and condoms. A couple of pillows survived, though they’re now useless.

“Just a few things to hold on to,” Gimmeson said. “I’ll cherish them all.”

The 21-year-old Aurora native and Colorado Mesa University junior said he and a roommate, sophomore Casey Zabel, were sitting on the couch watching a movie around noon Tuesday when they were overcome by an intense smell similar to fresh onions mixed with garlic. The odor lingered about 15 minutes.

Like they usually did when dogs passed gas in the home, they handled it by lighting incense.

He recalled smoke drifting up from underneath the floor.

“That’s what did it,” he said of lighting incense. “The second that happened, a big flash came across us.” 
The ensuing explosion tossed Gimmeson, Zabel and the couch they were sitting on into the air and crashing into the ceiling before being pushed out in a split second of chaos and fire. A red bruise on Gimmeson’s hip shows where he said he landed.

A third man, freshman Roberto Lopez, who also was in the home but didn’t live there, was ejected by the blast but walked away with relatively minor injuries.

Gimmeson said Zabel on Wednesday was in the intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital. St. Mary’s spokeswoman Kim Williams said he was in fair condition.

A bandage running the length of Gimmeson’s arm — covering exposed flesh and third-degree burns — will be redressed on a daily basis for at least the next week, he said. His nose and face also were badly burned. A reddish, sunburn-looking shade on his right arm is a second-degree burn.

“I’m lucky to be alive, that’s all I can say,” he said.

Not as lucky as roommate Jordan Pierson, who had gone out for lunch Tuesday at Chipotle.

Roughly a dozen unlucky homeowners, all in residences facing Seventh Street between Orchard and Elm avenues, were expected to spend a second night away from home as Xcel Energy crews hoped to vent remaining pockets of buried gas. There was still no electricity in the area Wednesday night. A hotline, 970-549-5130, was established Wednesday for evacuees. Xcel said gas levels will be evaluated first thing this morning.

Crews used jackhammers to punch holes in Seventh Street in attempt to relieve the pockets of gas.

Tope Elementary School, 2220 N. Seventh St., was expected to welcome students again today.

Xcel area manager Fred Eggleston said when a city contractor around 12:45 p.m. Tuesday ruptured a six-inch gas line that led to the explosion at 1752 N. Seventh St. — causing a fire which spread and leveled 1742 N Seventh St. — the line was pressurized at 150 pounds.

“As the gas comes out, it’s charging into the dirt,” Eggleston said, explaining how it spread from the initial leak point at Seventh and Orchard. The gas shot at least 20 to 30 feet, reaching the city sewer running parallel to Seventh Street.

“That sewer is a clay type of pipe, fitted together with loose joints,” Eggleston said. “That gas can migrate right through those joints.”

Concerns over possible lingering sewer gas prompted Xcel to dispatch 35 crews Wednesday morning to work with previously evacuated residents and ensure it was safe to return home. Some 20 people huddled around 8 a.m. in the parking lot of Seventh Day Adventist Church, 730 Mesa Ave., hoping to go home.

Seventy-five homes were covered in an evacuation zone Tuesday night, including new Grand Junction residents Mercedes Willis and her husband, Talmage.

They moved from Craig to a home at 1810 N. Seventh St. barely a week before Tuesday’s evacuation. They spent a sleepless night Tuesday in the gymnasium of Grand Junction High School. There were no pillows, and while materials were provided to take showers there, they had no towels, she said.

“They gave us a baloney sandwich and a cot, so I’ll guess we’ll call it good there,” her husband said.

They were allowed back in their home briefly around 10 p.m. Tuesday to check on three cats.

Patience, however, wore thin with authorities after having to walk from Grand Junction High School to attend Wednesday’s frigid morning briefing.

“I have blisters on my feet,” Mercedes Willis said.

“We know it has been a really difficult time for you and we certainly apologize for the inconvenience,” City Manager Rich Englehart told the crowd.

The contractor that breached the gas line Tuesday, Clifton-based Apeiron Utility Construction LLC., started work Monday on new traffic-control signaling at Seventh and Orchard under a city contract valued at $17,188, according to city spokeswoman Sam Rainguet. Crews were boring to lay conduit for new wires.

Apeiron has another city contract valued at $5,295 for a similar project at Seventh Street and Bookcliff Avenue, according to Rainguet. A start date on the new project hasn’t been scheduled, she said.

The firm, which has a license in good standing with the Colorado Secretary of State, has performed 15 projects with Grand Junction at a cost of roughly $85,000 since 2011, according to Rainguet. She said city officials have confirmed that Apeiron did complete a “locate” — a verification of buried utilities at the intersection of Seventh and Orchard — prior to starting work there on Monday.

“The investigation into the sequence of events and what happened is in process and we don’t have any answers yet,” she said.

A phone message left with Apeiron’s owner, Daniel Huffman, wasn’t immediately returned.


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