November 21, 2012 in City

Digging sparked Lewiston explosion

No serious injuries after backhoe hit line
Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A towering column of flames rises into the air above Fifth Street in downtown Lewiston on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

LEWISTON – A backhoe struck a 4-inch natural gas line in Lewiston, sparking an explosion and fire that rocked the downtown area, destroyed the backhoe and damaged a nearby building. No one was seriously injured.

The Lewiston Tribune reports flames shot 100 feet into the air after the explosion Monday afternoon. The newspaper and several nearby businesses were evacuated while firefighters battled the blaze.

Dale Albright of M.L. Albright & Sons Inc. construction was operating the excavator during work to install new storm equipment when the bucket struck the Avista Utilities gas line. The pressure of the escaping gas shattered the excavator’s windshield and destroyed the machine, Lewiston Fire Department Battalion Chief Travis Myklebust said. Albright rolled his ankle when jumping from the vehicle but was able to escape to safety before the gas caught fire, said his father, Marvin Albright.

It appears the explosion was the result of confusion over the shape of the gas line underground, officials said.

Workers knew the line’s location and dug two holes above the line to make sure they could dig to a certain depth without hitting it, Marvin Albright said.

However, in the area between the two holes, the gas line apparently was at a shallower depth.

“Everybody thought we were OK,” he said. “We didn’t expect that one to be where it was.”

Lewiston Community Development Director Laura Von Tersch said utilities are put in the ground at different times and at different depths, making it difficult to predict exactly where they are. The quality of mapping also is a factor.

“You’re completely reliant on the work of another,” she said.

Avista spokesman Mike Tatko said three natural gas lines that serve the area were shut off within 20 minutes of the explosion. The fire was out about 20 minutes later.

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