Gas main break forces evacuations

A burst natural gas pipe Thursday night in southern Douglas County led to the evacuation of roughly half a dozen homes on the western edge of Palmyra Township, about 10 miles south of Lawrence.

Douglas County emergency crews first went out on the call at 8:25 p.m. after several people called in with reports of a loud noise roaring through the area. Douglas County Fire & Medical Battalion Chief Rob Kort said that the first authorities on the scene could easily identify the burst gas main.

“It was like a jet engine,” Kort said. “The first personnel on the scene could see dirt blowing up from the hole in the ground.”

The gas line, which is operated by Southern Star, runs north-south all the way through the county.

“It’s probably a 20-inch line, so a high pressure, big gas line,” Kort said.

Sheriff’s deputies set up a perimeter around the leak, blocking several county roads from incoming traffic. They also evacuated the homes closest to the site of the leak.

Residents were allowed to return home a few hours later.

Crews from Southern Star arrived on the scene just after 9 p.m., and began working to alleviate pressure at the site of the burst pipe. Southern Star shut down valves on the line in Baldwin and the Haskell Bottoms to isolate the problem, Kort said.

Gas line breaks always pose a risk of explosions, but Thursday’s weather had officials especially concerned. Lightning lit up the sky persistently as crews worked the scene.

“The way the lightning was hitting around here, it could have lit off, and then we would have had more of a problem,” Kort said.

Kort said fire personnel were using a lightning detector to monitor how close to the leak lightning was striking.

The cause of the break was unknown. “We know the break occurred when the storm came in,” Kort said. “But we still don’t know what caused it.”