• Gas line explodes in The Downs


    Tuscaloosa News

    Work crews replacing water lines in The Downs neighborhood struck a gas line Tuesday, causing a small explosion and gas fire that destroyed an excavator and caused minor damage to a home.

    Around 1 p.m., crews from Centerline Contracting hit the gas line while digging a trench in the city's right of way. The man driving the excavator quickly jumped off the equipment when the fire started and no one was injured, said Gene Holcomb, spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service.

    Because the fire was fueled by the natural gas lines, it took about 45 minutes to put out, leaving the equipment to char in the process, melting off the treads. Firefighters watered down the home closest to the fire, but the vinyl siding on the home started to melt.

    It wasn't the first time that the gas lines have been hit during the project. Neighbors in The Downs estimate that the gas lines have been struck in the yards of at least 10 homes in the neighborhood since construction started earlier this month, along with some drainage and irrigation lines.

    "We've been saying that they were going blow something up if they weren't careful," said Tom Land, president of The Downs Neighborhood Association.

    Land and his family live across the street from where the gas line exploded and heard workers as they evacuated the site.

    Part of the problem is that the gas lines aren't where they are supposed to be, said Kimberly Michael, water distribution engineer for the city of Tuscaloosa.

    "The gas lines haven't been straight," Michael said.

    It's a problem that sometimes happens in older neighborhoods, said Danny Weems, owner of Centerline Contracting.

    "We try our hardest to locate existing utilities, but fact of matter is, if something was put in the ground 20 or 30 years ago, sometimes there are good maps and sometimes there are not. Sometimes these things happen even in the best of circumstances."

    Firefighters responded to the scene first, then crews from Alagasco who turned off the gas to the individual houses in the neighborhood and then turned off the gas to the line that fueled the fire. Although Tuscaloosa Police blocked the entrance to the neighborhood during the fire, no other homes were at risk, Holcomb said. Neighbors stood in the yards nearby and watched the fire burn, posting pictures on social media.

    The water line replacement project is part of a larger, eight-part, $2 million infrastructure project, said Deidre Stalnaker, spokesperson for the city.

    The $283,000 project in The Downs will be put on hold for now, Michael said, until Alagasco can come out and map out exactly where the gas lines are.

    Reach Lydia Seabol Avant at Lydia.SeabolAvant@ TuscaloosaNews.com or 205-722-0222.