Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - As­so­ci­ated Press

A se­ries of gas ex­plo­sions forces en­tire neigh­bor­hoods to evac­u­ate as au­thor­i­ties try to ex­tin­guish blazes at dozens of homes in three com­mu­ni­ties near Boston. The cause of the fires was not im­me­di­ately clear.

LAWRENCE, Mass. — A se­ries of gas ex­plo­sions one of­fi­cial de­scribed as “Ar­maged­don” left at least six peo­ple in­jured and ig­nited fires in at least 39 homes in three com­mu­ni­ties north of Boston on Thurs­day, forc­ing en­tire neigh­bor­hoods to evac­u­ate as crews scram­bled to fight the flames and turn off gas and elec­tric lines to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age.

Mas­sachusetts State Po­lice urged all res­i­dents with homes ser­viced by Columbia Gas in Lawrence, An­dover and North An­dover to evac­u­ate, snarling traf­fic and caus­ing wide­spread con­fu­sion as res­i­dents and lo­cal of­fi­cials strug­gled to un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing.

“It looked like Ar­maged­don, it re­ally did,” An­dover Fire Chief Michael Mans­field told re­porters. “There were bil­lows of smoke com­ing from Lawrence be­hind me. I could see pil­lars of smoke in front of me from the town of An­dover.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said state and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing but that it could take days or weeks be­fore they turn up an­swers.

“This is still very much an ac­tive scene,” he said. “There will be plenty of time later tonight, to­mor­row morn­ing and into the next day to do some of the work around de­ter­min­ing ex­actly what hap­pened and why.”

Hours af­ter the ex­plo­sions, the util­ity’s par­ent com­pany is­sued a brief state­ment say­ing its crews were still per­form­ing safety checks in the area.

“Our thoughts are with ev­ery­one af­fected by to­day’s in­ci­dent,” In­di­ana-based NiSource said in a state­ment. “The first pri­or­ity for our crews at the scene is to en­sure the safety of our cus­tomers and the com­mu­nity.”

Baker pre­vi­ously said au­thor­i­ties hadn’t heard di­rectly from Columbia Gas, but later called the com­pany’s re­sponse “ad­e­quate.”

By late Thurs­day, all of the fires had been doused but many ar­eas re­mained silent and dark af­ter res­i­dents fled and af­ter power com­pa­nies cut elec­tric­ity to pre­vent fur­ther fires.

Lawrence res­i­dent Bruce Razin was among the evac­uees stand­ing out­side the Colo­nial Heights neigh­bor­hood near the city’s high school try­ing to de­cide what to do next late Thurs­day.

Of­fi­cials had cut power in the area and the streets were pitch black, save for emer­gency ve­hi­cle lights. Razin said he ar­rived just as res­i­dents were be­ing evac­u­ated, and im­me­di­ately saw the house two doors down was lev­eled from an ex­plo­sion.

“I couldn’t imag­ine if that was my house,” said Razin. “It’s to­tal de­struc­tion. I’d be com­pletely dev­as­tated.”

WCVB via As­so­ci­ated Press

Among the dozens of homes ig­nited Thurs­day, fire­fight­ers bat­tle a fire in Lawrence, Mass., a sub­urb of Boston.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Prob­lems with a nat­u­ral gas sys­tem Thurs­day are blamed for de­stroy­ing homes, in­clud­ing this one in Lawrence, Mass.

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