Fire burned for hours after gas line struck
June 11. 2014 3:26PM
A leaking gas line caught fire Tuesday morning in Dell Rapids, sending flames shooting more than 30 feet high for about four hours.
Homeowners and occupants of area buildings, including Dell Rapids St. Mary school, were forced to evacuate during the blaze.
The fire started around 11 a.m. when a private contractor was drilling underground along 10th Street and State Avenue when they punctured a gas line. Meanwhile, a vehicle owner who was having problems starting his car ignited the gas on the 900 block of State Avenue, Dell Rapids fire chief Mike Steen said.
Witnesses described hearing a loud explosion followed by heavy flames shooting in the air.
The driver of the vehicle quickly fled the scene and wasn't injured, Minnehaha Sheriff's Department Sgt. Preston Evans said.
"It was a chain reaction of things that caused this explosion," Evans said.
No injuries were reported and nearby homeowners were safely evacuated, Evans said.
"Potentially, this could have been dangerous," Evans said. "But right now we are thankful that nobody was hurt."
Minnehaha County Emergency Manager Lynn DeYoung said fire crews were dousing the flames with water and letting it burn because it's the safest way to handle gas line fires.
Because the rupture was in a mainline, there wasn't a valve to shut off. If crews had stopped the fire, DeYoung said there would be a risk of gas leaking into other utility lines.
MidAmerican crews dug underground shortly after 1 p.m. and had the line shut by 3 p.m.
"There is no way of putting it out," Steen said during the fire. "Right now we are keeping everything cool, making sure the flames don't go any higher and protecting nearby buildings."
No other buildings or vehicles were damaged in the fire, Steen said.
Alice Chamley was in her home about a block away from the fire when she heard three loud explosions at 11 a.m. When she went outside, she saw flames shooting as high as the trees.
"It's really scary," she said. "It makes me really nervous."
Justin Dearduff, 44, heard fire trucks racing down the street shortly after the explosion.
Soon after, he lost power to his home. Dearduff said at first he didn't believe his family was in any immediate danger, but he later decided it was time to evacuate.
Meanwhile, Mark Kahler, owner of Kahler Funeral Home, was setting up a funeral scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. at a church nearby the fire.
After the gas line fire started, the earliest the church would open back up would be 5 p.m. Rather than push back the funeral, Kahler and employees opted to have it at the funeral home.
"Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches," Kahler said. "The family was really happy that people still came."