Ruptured Gas Main Spreads Havoc in New Orleans

Ruptured Gas Main Spreads Havoc in New Orleans

COVER STORY

EXPLOSION AND FIRE caused by the rupture of a natural gas main shattered the midnight quiet of an uptown section of New Orleans and drove scores of residents to the streets in 27-degree weather on the morning of January 25. Before the fire was brought under control by 15 fire companies responding to the 4-11 alarm, a double one-story dwelling was razed, the side of another damaged heavily, the fronts of two dwellings blistered, and four automobiles and a parked truck in the street were destroyed.

The sole occupant of the comer half of a double dwelling on Olive and Mistletoe Streets was awakened shortly after midnight by an explosion and the crashing sound of glass as the windows along the side of his home were blown in. Leaping flames greeted his sight through the windows. Wrapping himself in bed clothing, he dashed out the rear and shouted to his tenants, two families occupying the other half, to get out. He fled across Olive Street narrowly escaping being severely burned as rapidly spreading cracks in the street pavement behind him erupted flames. His tenants escaped unharmed.

Report of the explosion and fire was received by the fire alarm office at 12:14 a.m. Four engines, one truck, an emergency rescue unit, and District Chief 6 were dispatched to the scene. At the same time, the superintendent and two deputy chiefs were notified and they too responded. At 12:19 a.m., a 2-11 was struck, dispatching two engines, one truck and District Chief 5. At 12:21 a.m., a 4-11 was struck and four additional engines and District Chief 4 responded. Extra companies were called at 12:27 a.m. and 12:39 a.m., bringing in three additional engines.

The break occurred at the weld of a 20-inch high-pressure gas main, one of two main supply lines to the city in this area, at the intersection of Olive and Mistletoe Streets. It is believed to have been caused by a combination of strain on the main set up by the ground stress and the extreme, continuous cold weather. The explosion was probably caused by gas seeping through an opening in the side wall under the corner building and being ignited by the floor furnace.

A water curtain was thrown up immediately around the intersection to prevent the radiant heat of the gas flames from igniting other dwellings and to prevent the pavement from cracking further and expanding the perimeter of the fire. No effort was made by the fire department to extinguish the fire because of the obvious hazard of having gas spread throughout the entire area. The gas flames were leaping 50 feet or more into the air. The corner dwelling could not be saved, as the first company on the scene found it almost completely enveloped in flames. However, the spread of fire was stopped after heavy damage to the side wall of the adjoining dwelling. The four automobiles and the truck parked at the front and side of the comer dwelling were destroyed by radiant heat of the gas fire. The water curtain prevented damage other than blistering of the fronts of two dwellings across the street.

Gas flow rerouted

Because of the necessity of maintaining a sufficient gas supply to residences, hospitals, and other occupancies in the extreme cold weather, it was necessary for the utilities company to reroute gas flow to other lines and cut off approximately 10 valves in the interconnected system in the vicinity of the break. It was essential that the valves be closed very slowly. This was accomplished at 4:30 a.m. and the gas fire extinguished. The numerous hose streams forming the water curtain encircling the intersection were then shut off.

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