MARTINSBURG – A Mountaineer Gas Co. construction crew punctured a pipeline while installing a replacement pipeline Monday, causing a blast that spread natural gas fumes through a Martinsburg neighborhood for nearly three hours.
No injuries were reported, but an excavating machine operator was blown a couple feet during the explosion, said Adam Mauck, assistant fire chief of the Baker Heights Fire Department. The operator’s helmet and safety glasses blew off, he said.
“We were lucky that it didn’t ignite the gas leaking out,” Mauck said.
Mauck said a tooth from the dirt-digging arm of the excavator punctured an 8-inch gas pipeline shortly after 3 p.m. near Needy Road while crews were installing a 12-inch replacement pipeline.
“There was no fire,” he said. “It was just gas bleeding out of the line.”
The pipeline serves the Martinsburg Veterans Administration Hospital about a half-mile away, he said.
Firefighters and gas company officials checked homes for other possible gas leaks or dangers in the nearby Stone Bridge subdivision but found none, Mauck said.
Gas to the hospital was turned off while crews repaired the pierced pipeline, he said.
Mountaineer Gas officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Anne Sentz and her husband Ben saw the explosion in their backyard while taking a break while working from home off Salvation Road.
“We were standing here in the kitchen watching them dig,” she said. “All of a sudden we heard a loud noise and a big boom and saw pressurized gas shooting out from the ground.”
Sentz estimated the gas column shot about 80 to 100 feet in the air.
“At first I almost thought it was water,” she explained. “It almost looks like gushing water but it was more vaporized.”
Several workers scattered after the explosion, she said.
Sentz and her husband gathered up their two dogs to quickly leave their home and were met at their front door by a contractor who told them to leave the area. They drove away and stayed away for about three hours until they were told it was safe to return home.
“It was a little scary,” she said. “I know it could have been a lot worse.”
The construction workers were planning to work late Monday night to complete the pipeline repairs, Sentz said. The couple was considering spending the night away in a hotel room to sleep without thinking about the explosion too much, she said.