Miss. Gas Line Fire Results in Explosion

PEARL, Miss. --

A gas line fire near Airport Road led emergency officials to close a portion of the road and evacuate some businesses Friday.

At about 1 p.m., a 3 Rivers Contractor, a subcontractor for AT&T. was burying fiber optic cable on the Frontage Road, which is parallel to Airport Road to the south, and hit a gas line, causing an explosion, police said.

The fire engulfed the machine the crew was using to drill, then it started to spread across the street -- fed by natural gas that was seeping up from the ground. The supervisor for the crew said he has been doing this kind of work for 10 years and has hit gas lines before, but he said he has never had one explode until now. He said he and his workers could have killed.

"It raised me and the other foreman off the ground by about three feet, said Scott Phillips, a supervisor for Three Rivers Contractors. "The gas followed the hole back to the righ. I told my foreman to shut off everything. He shut off the water pipe. Within 15 seconds, it ignited. I'm just thankful I get to go home and see my wife and kids."

A representative from Mississippi 811 said the crew called the agency and were told where to dig. The pipeline was marked and the crew was digging about six feet away from where they were told the gas line was. Officials are now trying to determine if there was an error in the mapping of the gas line. They said whoever is at fault will be held accountable for paying for the damages.

Emergency officials evacuated Koch Foods and Jackson Communications and some other, smaller offices, police said. Some other businesses nearby voluntarily evacuated, police said.

The southbound lane of Airport Road, which is also known as Highway 475, was closed between Highway 80 and Interstate 20. The fire was put out at about 4:30 p.m. and the road reopened at about 5 p.m., officials said.

Center Point Energy crews were working to repair the broken pipe and officials said customers in the area should have their natural gas-service restored by 9 p.m.

Less than two months ago, there was a gas leak on Highway 80 that happened near where Friday's explosion took place. Pearl leaders said a 3 inch natural gas line ruptured on Oct. 29 when a crew tried to bury some pipes.

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