A natural gas pipeline exploded in a fireball Friday, destroying a home several hundred yards away, damaging at least three others and creating waves of intense heat that burned a fleeing homeowner as he ran down a road, authorities said.
“It looked like you were looking down into hell,” said Forbes Road Volunteer Fire Chief Bob Rosatti of Greensburg, PA, blaze.
The fire and heat seared scores of acres of woodlands around the pipeline in Salem Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, turning tall trees into blackened poles, melting the siding off one property, and causing wet pavement to steam. People miles away reported hearing a huge whooshing sound and feeling the ground rumble.
A quarter-mile evacuation zone ended up created, affecting about a dozen homes, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister.
The pipeline was shut off and the fire brought under control within an hour, but residual gas burned for hours, officials said.
The man who suffered the burns lived in the house closest to the fire, which ended up destroyed.
“He told us that he heard a loud noise and compared it to a tornado. All he saw was fire and started running up the roadway and a passerby picked him up,” Rosatti said.
“The heat was so intense that it was burning him as he was running,” he said.
He was conscious and talking to rescue workers when they took him to the hospital, officials said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said the blast was traced to a 36-inch pipeline. They said the pipeline and nearby complex is the property of Texas Eastern Transmission, a unit of Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp. of Houston.
The pipeline is one of four owned by Texas Eastern that run through the rural tract.
Spectra Energy issued a statement saying “our first concern is for the safety of the community, our employees, and any others who may be affected.”
The state Public Utility Commission is taking the lead on the investigation, with assistance from the DEP, state fire marshal and the pipeline company, the DEP said.
The DEP will also investigate any impact on gas wells in the area and any environmental impact.