ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) -A massive fire that burned for four hours into Thursday evening has finally been put out. Flames erupted as crews searching for a gas leak somehow caused the gas line to collapse near the corner of Enright and Clara, just north of Delmar.
Laclede Gas officials say they received the call of an odor of gas this afternoon. Crews were investigating when the line burst. Witnesses describe the roaring sound of gas pouring out of the line, followed by a “pop.” Suddenly flames were shooting more than three stories into the sky.
Firefighters were on scene pouring water onto the flames and also onto the neighboring St. Luke’s Plaza apartment building. The brick structure was only a few yards from the ball of flame that was shooting from the ground for four hours.
Laclede Gas says the fire was allowed to burn because, much like a pilot light, the flame contains the escaping gas in one area. Putting the fire out could actually have been more dangerous, we’re told.
Neighbors say the smell of gas was not limited to the call Thursday morning. In fact some believe there were signs this was coming.
“I saw how big the flame was and I knew it was that gas line,” Cornelius Tart said as he watched the fire from the sidewalk. He was one of thirty residents of the St. Luke’s Plaza evacuated from their homes. He says he reported the smell of gas to his building manager a month ago, and crews had been out from Laclede in the past couple of weeks.
“There’s a small hole on the edge of the building and the gas has been coming up through that. And Laclede has been out here two weeks working on it.”
Laclede Gas spokesperson Jessica Willingham confirms crews made a run to the same area two weeks ago. She says at the time gas readings were low and, in line with state regulations, the case was put on a low priority list to be checked out later.
She says they received today’s call, and the readings were much higher. Crews never left the scene and were present when the line went up.
“It’s too scary,” neighbor Roslyn Guy said, “because it’s been going on for a long time. The last two weeks it’s been real serious because they’ve been digging.
Four lines had to be shut off to put the fire out. Three were easily clamped, but the fourth, to the north of the blaze, had to be dug up. It was finally closed off about 6:45, four hours after the initial ignition.
At least one resident of the apartment building next door reported damage. She says water from the fire hoses broke out a bathroom window, sending water shooting into her second floor apartment.
Other neighbors stood outside as crews assessed the damage after the fire. One man, showing video shot on his cell phone, told us, “it looked like the devil was making his entrance.”