Fire evacutes homes, cuts power in North Toledo neighborhood

11/16/2010
Crews work to shut off a gas line fueling the fire.
Crews work to shut off a gas line fueling the fire.

The only gas customer to lose service was the Toledo's wastewater treatment plant at 3900 North Summit St., according to Columbia Gas spokesman Chris Kozak. He said restoring service would take 24 hours. Tom Crothers, the city's director of public utilities, could not be reached Tuesday night.

The incident began at about 5:20 p.m. when fire crews responded to a report of a downed electrical line in the 3200 block of East Manhattan Boulevard.

Firefighters arriving at the scene found a strong odor of natural gas and the downed line, Fire Battalion Chief Bill Sulewski said.

Columbia Gas and Toledo Edison were contacted and electrical service to neighborhood businesses and residences was disconnected, but not before a spark from the downed line probably ignited leaking gas inside the regulator station, Chief Sulewski said.

The regulator station, about the size of a two-car garage, was fed into by a 16-inch high pressure line and a 20-inch medium pressure line, and the flow of gas to it could not be quickly shut down.

The building burned slowly at first, but the blaze grew in intensity as the gas pressure increased. Eventually the flames burst through the roof of the structure and reached higher than the multi-story house next door that had been evacuated.

Columbia crews first closed a valve about 3,000 feet away that controlled the high pressure line.

The low-pressure valve, however, proved more tricky.

It was just across Manhattan from the regulator station but was buried. A backhoe was brought in to dig a three-foot deep excavation in the pelting rain, and a Columbia worker with a large pipe wrench then laboriously closed the valve one turn at a time.

Meanwhile, firefighters trained their hoses on the home next to the regulator station to protect it from the flames. The only damage it sustained was melted vinyl siding from the radiant heat, Chief Sulewski said.

At 7:30 p.m. the valve was closed, and the flames died as the residual gas in the line burned away.

Chief Sulewski said the evacuated residents could return home when pleased.

Contact Carl Ryan at:carlryan@theblade.comor 419-724-6050.