Gas Surge, Fire Close 15 Blocks Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

Leonard Roberts, trustee at Morning Chapel Church, examines damage in a hallway of the church after a gas explosion in the church's kitchen Thursday afternoon. Two people were treated at a hospital after the blast.


Leonard Roberts, trustee at Morning Chapel Church, examines damage in a hallway of the church after a gas explosion in the church's kitchen Thursday afternoon. Two people were treated at a hospital after the blast.

Fire Capt. Greg Yates cordons off the area around Billy Miner's Saloon in Sundance Square on Thursday, shortly after a surge in a gas line caused an explosion and some small fires.

Outside Riscky's Bar-B-Q at Second and Main streets, Battalion Chief Kenny Freeman, at right, gets an update over his radio as Battalion Chief Bill Pearson listens in.

Firefighters prepare to check for gas leaks at Riscky's, where a small fire had been reported in the kitchen in the late afternoon.

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, left, consults with fire investigator Sabino Vasquez as fire crews deal with the effects of the gas line surge.

Gas surge paralyzes downtown

DAMAGE

An explosion at the Morning Chapel Church blew a hole in the kitchen roof, melted plastic and blackened walls.

EVACUATIONS

Fifteen square blocks of downtown were cordoned off, and two office towers and several other buildings were cleared out.

TODAY

An Atmos Energy spokesman said that 200 downtown gas meters would be shut off until at least midmorning.

An overloaded natural gas line sparked explosions and fires on Thursday, prompting evacuations, closing streets and restaurants in downtown Fort Worth, and snarling rush-hour traffic.

Gas fumes overwhelmed two people at a church northeast of downtown, and they were taken to Harris Methodist Fort Worth hospital. No other injuries were reported.

More than 60 firefighters took to the streets, and a 15-block area of Sundance Square was closed off after the odor of natural gas filled restaurants and shops just before 5 p.m.

Signs were posted on the locked doors at some restaurants. Lights were off in others.

"Except for the tornado, this has never happened before," said Tracy Gilmour, director of marketing for Sundance Square.

The most extensive damage appeared to have been to the Morning Chapel Church at East Third and Crump streets. An explosion in the church kitchen blew a hole in the roof, melted plastic on appliances and singed the walls and cupboards.

The pastor, the Rev. Manuel Henderson, and the church secretary, Vernice Coleman, were treated and released at Harris.

Fire investigators said the problem might have originated near the church at the Trinity Bluffs construction site on the northeast edge of downtown.

A spokesman for Atmos Energy said the fires were caused by a surge in pressure in overloaded gas lines. Company crews were investigating whether the construction played a role in the gas surge.

Gas lines to the businesses usually hold seven to 10 ounces of pressure; at the time of the surge, they were holding about 16 ounces, said Rand LaVonn, public communications manager for Atmos.

"It went up much higher than it should have, and right now we're trying to find out why," LaVonn said.

About 11 p.m., LaVonn said company workers were shutting off gas at about 200 meters downtown, mostly at businesses. Crews were to work through the night, he said, first pressurizing the main gas line and checking for leaks. If no leaks are discovered, crews were then to begin pressurizing and checking individual lines.

The company hopes the work will be complete by late morning today.

Downtown, Billy Miner's Saloon and Riscky's Bar-B-Q were among the restaurants that remained closed Thursday night as investigators tested gas lines on the block.

The 15-block area of Sundance Square was closed to traffic after fire broke out about 4:40 p.m. in Riscky's kitchen. Many businesses locked their doors while their employees stood outside watching firefighters file by. Gas was shut off in the City Center towers, which were evacuated after 5 p.m.

Bass Performance Hall, site of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, was also closed, but officials reopened the doors about 6:30 p.m. and the performances went on as scheduled.

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