SALEM TOWNSHIP (KDKA) – A gas pipeline explosion sparked a massive fire Friday morning, sending balls of flames high into the sky over Westmoreland County and radiating heat so intense homes thousands of feet away felt it.
According to officials at the scene, a 30-inch Spectra Energy natural gas line exploded around 8:30 a.m. The line is located near the intersection of Routes 22 and 819 in Salem Township.
The fire chief on scene said it looked like a bomb had gone off and the blast could be felt for miles.
“When I came around the bend, it looked like you were looking down into hell, is what I would compare it to,” Forbes Road Fire Department Chief Bob Rosatti said. “As far across my windshield as I can see, it was just a massive fireball, and I parked a quarter mile away and I couldn’t get out of my truck because it was that hot.”
One nearby home was destroyed and two others were damaged.
RAW VIDEO: Gas line explosion caught on camera
A man in the destroyed home suffered serious burns and was taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital. His condition is unknown.
“He was ground transported to the hospital due to the weather conditions, the helicopter couldn’t fly. He was in a residence right beside the explosion. He was in the home by himself. He told us that he heard a loud noise and compared it to a tornado. All he saw was fire and he started running up the roadway and a passerby picked him up,” Chief Rosatti said. “The heat was so intense that it was burning him as he was running.”
Emergency officials evacuated homes and businesses within a half-mile radius. That was later reduced to a quarter-mile radius, which includes 10 to 12 homes.
“Oh my God, my shop. That’s all I could think about. I have a lot of time and money invested in this pizza shop and I thought, ‘Oh my God, there goes my shop,’” Kim Kelley, a local business owner, said.
“All hell broke loose,” said Richard Johnston, an evacuee whose home was damaged by the fire. “There was an explosion right there, there was fire all across here, the wind was terrible, the heat was something else. You couldn’t stand it.”
The gas line’s shutoff valve was found shut down and within 90 minutes. Once it was off, the fire was out.
“Spectra Energy has an emergency response team; they are going to go down and inspect the damage,” Chief Rosatti said. “There are several lines that parallel that. We don’t know if there was any damage to that.”
Bob Allen’s Report:
“I was in the car and I could feel this shake and I looked over at the horizon and it looked like the sun was coming up,” another woman said. “You could feel the heat inside of your car and people just scattered like cockroaches alongside the road and nobody knew what to do.”
Texas Eastern, who owns the pipeline, has set up a community hotline for people who think they have property damage. That number is 855-210-7732.
The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.