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Downed wire sparks gas line fire in O'Hara, trapping residents

Updated:

UPDATE (4:30 p.m.)

Saxonburg Boulevard is back open after a gas fire was started by a lightning strike.

Crews from People's Gas, PennDot and O'Hara Township were in full clean-up and repair mode Monday, but first, they had to deal with a fire fueled by a gas line that was damaged when lightning brought down trees and wires, and the electricity from those lines penetrated the gas line.

"Sounded like a tree fell down on the other side of the road, and then there were four explosions afterward, and then the big fire started up," said Ray Biernesser, who lives nearby.
 
Crews shut off the gas and let the fire burn itself out.
 
Emergency responders and neighbors were anxious that something could explode, or that Saxonburg Bouvelard might collapse because of the heat from the fire.
 
Berryhill Road will be closed indefinitely because some of the pipes melted and the storm water system will have to be replaced.

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A downed wire sparked a gas line fire along Saxonburg Boulevard in O'Hara Township overnight, damaging the line and the road above it.

Residents in about 40 homes along Saxonburg Boulevard, Berryhill Road and adjoining roads cannot leave or access their homes. One home was evacuated, but a bridge under construction about a mile down the road is boxing in other residents.

Police Chief James Farringer, the acting emergency services director for the township, said a tree brought down the power lines, which then ignited the 4-inch gas line running beneath Saxonburg. A Peoples Gas spokesman said the company believes a lightning strike knocked down the tree.


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Emergency personnel were ordered to stay away from the immediate area of the fire for hours because of explosion concerns.

"Sounded like a tree fell down on the other side of the road, and then there were four explosions afterward, and then the big fire started up," said neighbor Ray Biernesser.

Farringer said residents in about 40 homes were "trapped" and asked to "stay in place." Duquesne Light turned off the power to the wire that started the fire, which finally burned out before 7 a.m.

Peoples Gas shut the fuel supply off after 5 a.m., but the fire continued to burn off the gas left in the line for about 90 minutes. A company spokesman said about 200 people will be without gas service for an undetermined amount of time as crews inspect the damage.

"We're stuck between the bridge that's out near Kmart and this event at Brownshill Road," said Kim Iasella.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation workers will investigate damage to Saxonburg Boulevard while township workers will inspect neighboring roads.

The township tweeted at about 8:30 a.m. that Saxonburg would reopen by 2 p.m., although lane restrictions will be in place. Berryhill Road will remain closed.