By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
An explosion triggered by a gas leak destroyed a house at 221 W. Tennie St. in Gainesville early Thursday.
City officials and Atmos Energy representatives said the incident caused no injuries — due to a multi-home evacuation Atmos conducted on Tennie Street once a gas leak was detected in sewer vents — but added that the cause of the leak is under investigation.
Names of the four residents evacuated from the 221 W. Tennie St. house were not made available during the two media conferences held Thursday in response to the explosion. City Manager Barry Sullivan said the incident evidently began shortly after 1:30 a.m. Thursday when City of Gainesville workers responded to a water leak in the 700 block of South Weaver Street.
Three hours after they had begun management of a 12-inch water main, he said, crew members detected natural gas on site and contacted Atmos Energy shortly before 5 a.m.
“The results from the test led to Atmos doing an immediate evacuation,” Sullivan said.
Atmos representatives evacuated seven houses on Tennie Street before sunrise. At 7 a.m., Sullivan said, the house at 221 W. Tennie St., which also intersects Weaver Street, exploded and the remains stood engulfed in flame.
The blast caused no damage to neighboring houses or vehicles, but both Sullivan and Atmos spokesperson Jennifer Ryan said the primary ignition of the gas is still unexplained. Police and fire department officers responded by extinguishing the house fire and barricading roads in a two-block radius.
Sullivan and Ryan also said they didn’t know if the gas leak already existed before early Thursday morning or was accidentally caused on site by the Gainesville city crew. Water and gas utility lines are often buried very close to one another, Sullivan said, and the detection of Thursday’s gas leak was both by smell and by the sight of bubbles rising through the water line.
How the gas line was ruptured in the first place remains unknown.
“The exact cause may take days, weeks or even months to determine,” Ryan said.
Water, gas and power utilities in the immediate area were suspended by the incident, affecting 30 homes throughout Thursday. Those utilities were restored by Thursday evening, and Ryan said during the period of evacuation, many residents had their front doors tagged, signifying that Atmos representatives will visit at a later time to help safely restore any gas appliances.
And Sullivan said proper protocol was observed by City of Gainesville crews before the early morning dig into Weaver Street. Officials were not required to contact Atmos Energy before digging, but did contact a third-party “dig test” locator company, as required.
“The appropriate procedures were followed,” he said.
During the second conference, Ryan was questioned about a house explosion on Jan. 11, in Lewisville — also involving an Atmos Energy customer, and also apparently caused by a gas leak. That incident resulted in one fatality.
Ryan said she didn’t know how to equate the two disasters.
“It’s different and unique in nature, and it’s really difficult to compare one event to the other,” Ryan said Thursday. “There are a lot of things that happened today that did not happen in Lewisville, and vice versa.”
Ryan said local Atmos customers should call 1-866-322-8667 to report any detected gas leaks. Sullivan said any neighboring resident directly affected by Thursday’s incident can call (940) 668-7777 for assistance.