‘Multiple’ gas fires spark Ohio mass evacuation

FAIRPORT HARBOR, Ohio — Built-up pressure in natural gas lines led to a house explosion in an Ohio town Monday morning, caused a series of fires and prompted a brief evacuation order for the village of about 3,000 people.

A dozen or more fires were reported in Fairport Harbor, northeast of Cleveland along Lake Erie, but only two were still burning by late morning and were under control, said Tom Talcott, deputy chief of the fire department in nearby Mentor.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, Mayor Frank Sarosy said.

The fires affected homes, apartments and other buildings and severely damaged at least two, Talcott said. Authorities received more than two dozen calls from people reporting gas odors.

An evacuation had been ordered, but residents instead were soon directed to instead turn off gas lines and stay inside when the situation stabilized. Evacuated residents who had gathered at a community center began returning home by late Monday morning.

Talcott said he didn’t have an estimate of how many residents had evacuated.  According to NBC News, officials started receiving calls from residents at 7:45 a.m. ET Monday reporting “furnaces erupting into flames and gas leaks.”

Gas company Dominion East Ohio said the gas line system had been returned to normal pressure and that problems with the system appeared to be isolated to one part of town. Crews were visiting the area to inspect homes and a regulation station that manages the pressure in that area.

“Right now we’ll be canvassing the neighborhood going door-to-door, checking appliances, checking the pressure, checking for anything else that looks suspicious, and either making corrections or turning off the gas as needed,” Dominion East Ohio spokesman Jeff Zidonis said.

Residents in the region were dealing with temperatures well below freezing, but Zidonis said he couldn’t say whether the cold was a factor in what happened.

“It could be,” he said. “Obviously we’ve had one of the coldest nights that we’ve had in two years. But that’s speculation at this time.”

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Associated Press reporter Thomas J. Sheeran contributed to this report.

The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.

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