COLUMBUS, Ind. — Flames gushed from a ruptured natural gas line near a downtown Columbus residence Wednesday after a homeowner hit the line while digging fence post holes.
No one suffered serious injuries, but the house at 1024 Chestnut St. sustained an estimated $10,000 in damages from the heat of the fire, according to the Columbus Fire Department.
Property owner Harold Lockhart and another man were using a motorized auger to dig holes for a fence post at about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday when the auger ruptured the gas line, which ran adjacent to the alley, said Matt Noblitt, spokesman for the fire department. The heat from the auger motor's exhaust ignited the natural.
Fire department crews responded and worked to protect the house from the flames to prevent them from causing more damage, said Columbus Fire Chief Joel Thacker. Firefighters also controlled the flames until Vectren Corp. could shut off the gas and determine the source of the leak.
The orange flames danced up to 15 feet in the air from the auger that was standing straight and stuck in the ground. A combination of water, heat and gas created rainbows in the mist.
The melted siding drooped off the side of the house, exposing the pink insulation underneath, and part of an aluminum gutter was warped by the heat.
Noblitt said the fire singed the hair on Lockhart's arms and the other man escaped without injury.
Vectren Corp. workers dug up the line a safe distance from the leak and stopped the flow of gas to repair the line.
David Dwyer, the fire department's deputy chief of operations, said the incident was a good reminder for anyone planning to dig into the ground to contact utility companies to find out where their lines run.
In Indiana, residents and contractors can call 811 to have utility lines marked to help avoid hitting them during an excavation project.
A person who damages a utility line may have to pay a civil penalty up to $10,000 or face a lawsuit from the utility company, according to state statute.
The streets around the Chestnut Street residence were temporarily closed Wednesday. Columbus Police Department officers assisted with rerouting traffic, and Columbus Regional Hospital medics were on stand by at the scene in case of injuries.
Blocks near 10th and Chestnut streets are temporarily closed because of a gas fire in the area. Authorities are currently working to put out the fire.
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