3 injured after natural gas leak catches fire, explosion destroys 2 homes

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Flames from the fire believed to have been caused by a natural gas leak. (Photo: KREX)

DENVER — Three people were injured when a natural gas leak caused a fire and explosion that destroyed two homes in Grand Junction Tuesday afternoon.

The explosion happened at a home on 7th Street and Orchard Avenue, near Colorado Mesa University, said Heather Benjamin of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.

Firefighters were working with Xcel to fix a gas leak in the area when one firefighter spotted a fire in a home at 1752 7th Street.  As additional firefighters were responding, natural gas inside the home ignited causing a large explosion.

Three people were inside the home and were taken to St. Mary’s hospital.  Tuesday afternoon one had been released, said Kate Porras of the Grand Junction Police Department. Two other people were being kept overnight for observation.

The two homes were a “total loss” and “they remain on fire to burn off any escaping gas that continues to leak and because there is not structure to salvage,” Porras said.

A 3×8 block area has been evacuated and firefighters opened manhole covers to vent natural gas from the leak, which has filled the sewer lines. The evacuation order continued overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.

Porras said the leak came from a transmission line to Colorado Mesa University. Xcel has shut off gas to the line, which is burred about seven feet underground.

CMU is without gas and 104 nearby buildings are without power.  “Officials are optimistic the evacuation area will be considerably shrunk before dark today,” Porras said.

Neighbors reported smelling the sulfur scent of natural gas before the explosion.

Tope Elementary School and Grand Junction High School were evacuated as a precaution.  The Red Cross has set up an evacuation center at Grand Junction High School.

Tope Elementary School was going to remain closed Wednesday. GJHS was scheduled to open as normal.

7th, a major thoroughfare to downtown Grand Junction, remains closed while police and firefighters investigate.

Benjamin said it was fortunate that the explosion happened during the middle of the day when most of the homes were vacant.

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