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Gas Blast Investigation

New information tonight about what sparked a massive gas explosion in Buncombe County.

The giant hole in Sand Hill Road is filled now and traffic is flowing smoothly once again. It may be "the"  fire of a career for responders in Buncombe County, "when you look a the fire fighting handbook, this is not in the book. So they really had to rely on past experiences."

A plan put in place immediately, keeping surrounding structures safe, was a challenge but a success. Assistant Chief Josh Howard, Enka-Candler Fire Rescue,  "everything that went well went well and everything that could have gone bad, did not. Someone was watching over all of us."

It was a waiting game, letting the gas burn, creating the light show, "the guys sitting here fighting the fire were literally having to read each others lips, they said they were screaming as loud as they could at each other."

Monday, crews patched up burned grass and replaced wilted power lines in the path of the flames.  Only a few battle scars from Friday's fire remain, some melted vinyl and boarded-up windows.

"We had great response from local fire firefighters." Several major businesses, only feet away, basically unscathed.

Joel Gillespie, general manager of Smith Dray Line, "the heat from the fire broke a window in the front of the building."

No lives lost and not one injury reported.

PSNC Energy today announced preliminary findings of its ongoing investigation into what caused one of its natural gas pipelines to rupture and ignite.

PSNC Energy Vice President of Gas Operations George Ratchford said it appears that a section of steel, 12-inch transmission pipeline incurred surface damage during the 2003 installation of a smaller, plastic gas distribution line that runs parallel and in close proximity to the transmission line, and that this damage ultimately led to Fridays fire.

We use ground patrols to perform leak surveys on the entirety of our transmission pipeline system, said Ratchford. This particular section is inspected twice a year, most recently in September 2013. There was no prior evidence of a leak at this location.

Its undetermined what caused the gas to ignite Friday. The resulting fire, which lasted about 90 minutes, caused heat damage to several cars, homes and commercial buildings in the area, but there were no reported injuries to people. Ratchford said PSNC Energy is still working to assess the extent of property damage.

We are certainly thankful that no one was hurt as a result of this incident, said Ratchford. Public safety is always our highest priority. Were doing everything we can to understand exactly what happened and why, and to learn from this.

As a precautionary measure, the company will immediately begin working to replace the entire section of transmission pipeline that runs parallel to the distribution line installed in 2003. The work to replace that section of pipe approximately 1,000 linear feet is expected to take 2-4 weeks, with no disruption of service to customers and minimal interruption to traffic in the area.

Nearly 700 PSNC Energy customers temporarily lost natural gas service due to the initial repair work that was performed. PSNC Energy service crews worked through the weekend to restore service to those customers, going door-to-door to turn meters on and relight pilot lights. All but a few customers had service restored as of early today.

We apologize to everyone who was affected by this situation, said Ratchford. We also sincerely appreciate the emergency responders, city and county officials, and local agencies who worked with us to quickly and safely contain the fire and expedite repairs, as well as our customers across western North Carolina who immediately responded to our request to reduce their gas usage as we made repairs to our system. The cooperation and understanding of our customers and the entire Asheville area has been overwhelming.

PSNC Energy will continue its investigation into the incident and will submit a more comprehensive report to the North Carolina Utilities Commission within the next four weeks.


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