11 January 2012

A Note About Fire Safety

Since our house journey began with a tragic fire, we're hypersensitive to fire safety issues. So it really hit us hard when this happened on Monday in our neighborhood:



Our old neighborhood, about a mile away, but still. Crestview will always have a special place in our hearts.

Unlike the fire that destroyed the house that we ended up buying (which could have been rebuilt), that house exploded due to a gas leak. Apparently the owner had been smelling gas since October and called the gas company at least once, but the response was wholly inadequate. They came out just before New Year's, poked around a bit, and couldn't get at the leak; they said they would come back with the right equipment (most likely to dig up the driveway), but in the meantime...



...the house was reduced to rubble before the fire trucks even arrived on the scene.

So scary. I guess I think about gas leaks originating in the house, at appliances, where it's easier to detect and keep up on them. (You'd smell a leak at the stove, right?) I take some comfort in knowing that our risk of a gas leak is minimized because we only have about half the gas appliances that most houses have (due to our geothermal heat pump, which also powers the water heater). But gas leaks that originate outside seem harder to detect, and you're at the mercy of the gas company to fix them. (Several years ago, back at the condo, I smelled a gas leak on the side of one of the other buildings. I called the gas company, and I assume they came out to investigate, but the smell was never resolved, and I'm ashamed to admit that I never followed up.) I'd like to believe the repair folks triage as well as they can given their staff limitations (rather than just not caring), but when you're talking about highly explosive substances, triage is not enough.

It's been more than 48 hours since the explosion -- which killed the owner and blew out all of the windows of the house next door -- and the whole block is still without gas (and therefore heat as well). The Texas Railroad Commission, which (oddly) regulates gas pipelines, has taken over the investigation and repair work, and they've dug this huge hole looking for the leak:



While I don't know what kind of pipe actually had the leak, that hole is reminiscent of the 30" gas pipeline that blew up outside of San Francisco in 2010, destroying dozens of houses and killing four people. I don't know if this involves a major transmission line or "just" the individual service line to that house, but it's scary to think that this could happen to anyone. Even someone who did the responsible thing and called the gas company about the problem. So it goes without saying: if you smell gas, leave the house (and don't use your phone anywhere near the source) call 911, and don't stop calling until it has been fixed.

(More pictures and information here.)

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