Archive for Thursday, July 22, 1999


July 22, 1999


A natural gas leak Wednesday afternoon in downtown Lawrence prompted the evacuation of several businesses, sending workers and shoppers into the heat.

As natural gas hissed in the background and the sun sizzled above, emergency crews evacuated several downtown businesses Wednesday after a semi-truck driver backed into a utility line.

Thomas Moffett said he had just delivered a shipment of mattresses to Everything But Ice and was backing his Heartland Bedding rig into the alley next to 7th Heaven, 1000 Mass., when he heard a crunch.

"I heard it, but I didn't know what it was," Moffett said. "I couldn't see at all."

Moffett said his spotter didn't warn him about the gas line.

A steel bumper-like bar on the back of the truck ripped through a gas line valve just above ground. The crash also took out seven meters.

The smell of natural gas permeated the 1000 block of Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets as downtown workers and passersby waited for the OK to return to their cars and shops.

"I heard the hissing sound, but I thought his tire had blown," Bone Appetit owner Doug D'Albini said as he watched the action from a safe distance.

More than 20 firefighters responded to the leak, taking turns guarding the scene. Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical Battalion Chief Bill Stark said a hand-held thermometer aimed at the sidewalk pegged the heat at 138 degrees. Armed with bottled water, firefighters took turns on standby.

A north breeze helped diffuse any serious problems, Stark said.

"The wind is helping in this case," he said as police scurried about, collecting information for an accident report.

Worried about ignition from spark plugs, firefighters asked people parked near the accident to not start their cars. City Commissioner Jim Henry's convertible stood idle as he waited for the go-ahead to drive away.

"You can be sure someplace between the leak and you and I, there's a flammable spot," Lawrence Fire Marshal Rich Barr said, standing in the middle of 10th Street between Massachusetts and Hampshire streets. "Someplace in there, it would go."

The scene definitely was not a place for smokers.

Kansas Public Service crews had to shut gas off for the entire area to get the leak stopped, said Chuck Hoag, director of operations for the gas utility. Moffett's truck snapped a valve -- called a "service riser" -- just above ground. That made it difficult for crews to get to the leak.

"There were 30 pounds of gas coming up through it," Hoag said.

Emergency crews were dispatched to the scene at 12:52 p.m., and Stark said he declared the situation under control at 1:37 p.m.

Hoag said Kansas Public Service will send Moffett a bill for the accident for lost gas, damaged meters and labor. Customer-owned house lines also were damaged, Hoag said.

A report had not been filed by police as of Wednesday night, and it was not known if Moffett was cited for the accident.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is

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