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Gas line rupture surprises firefighters

May 2, 2012

SEEKONK — Local firefighters, still dealing with smoldering debris some 12 hours after a blaze destroyed an old mill at 36 Maple Avenue on Tuesday, were surprised by a gas line rupture that occurred at the site at around 5 p.m.,
Seekonk Fire Chief Alan Jack said that the fire that was first reported at around 4:30 a.m. had long been extinguished but fire crews had stayed on the scene to deal with “hot spots” that kept recurring from the clearing and removal of debris.
He said that crews of firefighters from Seekonk and surrounding communities and other personnel had been shuttled to the site on and off during Tuesday evening and throughout the night, working under the illumination of portable light towers.
The electricity had been shut off to the building, which had been abandoned since 2009, and Jack said the understanding was that there was no gas service as well. However, he said that just after 5 p.m., those at the scene were startled by the sound of a loud roar and saw a large plume of brownish colored smoke erupt from the ground.
“We knew what it was immediately. We didn't even have to smell the gas,” said Jack. He likened the noise to the sound of “a jet engine.”
The fire chief said that all of the personnel at the fire scene were evacuated immediately and the gas company was called.
He said the rupture occurred in a high pressure, 8-inch gas line that serviced the mill building, which had last housed the Attleboro Dyeing and Finishing Company and later some smaller businesses.
While the gas line rupture did delay firefighters' ability to attack the smoldering remains in one portion of the building, they were able to continue their efforts at other ends of the sprawling property. There were no injuries from the incident, although there was initial concern about one group of fire personnel who were cut off by the explosion. He said the gas company arrived quickly and shut off the service to the building, while maintaining the gas service to surrounding homes.
On Wednesday morning, Jack said that an excavation company had been working, still assisted by firefighters, to clear the remaining debris. He said he expected that work to be completed by mid-day.
Jack said the fire, which was contained to the building, was likely either set or occurred from someone who had gained entry to the building. He said that local police and fire investigators, along with agents from the state and federal government, had taken part in the investigation.
The Massachusetts State Fire Marshal's Office, through its Arson Watch program, is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information about the incident and has placed posters of the reward at various locations in town.
Jack also said the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency had been brought in to take air and water samples at the property plus of the nearby Ten Mile River due to concern over the contaminants found in the old mill. He said that the air quality samples showing just “miniscule” amounts of contaminants and water samples taken from puddling near the building contained very small amounts of products.
The results of the river samples are not back yet. However, Jack said that environmental officials were working with the town's public works department to create a berm on a dirt road behind the mill leading to the river to contain any further run-off.
Jack said he was very appreciative of the cooperation that came through mutual aid from surrounding communities in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts. He said that when the fire initially broke out, Seekonk Firefighters were assisted by crews from Attleboro and Pawtucket, while East Providence helped cover for Seekonk. Later that day and throughout the night, fire personnel from Rehoboth, Dighton, Swansea and Raynham helped with the aftermath.

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