Team effort prevents deadly combination of gas, electricity and fire

Thursday, June 11, 2020
A natural gas line, ruptured after a power line came into contact with a tree in northeast McCook on Tuesday, awaits repair.
Bruce Crosby/McCook Gazette

McCOOK, Neb. - Local firefighters and utility crews joined forces Tuesday evening to keep a lethal combination of electricity, fire and natural gas from causing a disaster.

 Homeowner Bill Marshall said quick action by his neighbors, Dale and Cindy Fahnholz helped save his house and property after they noticed fire in trees next to his house and called him and the fire department about 5 p.m.

McCook Fire Chief Marc Harpham said high winds apparently caused a power pole to snap, allowing a high-voltage power line to fall into a grove of evergreen trees.

NPPD was contacted and shut off the power, but “as we worked to extinguish the fire, our personnel noticed that the water at the base of the tree seemed to be bubbling, which we initially thought was due to the high heat and the water was simply boiling,” Harpham said.

After a few seconds, however, they smelled natural gas, and Black Hills Energy was immediately called in to sample the air with a gas detector.

“It was determined to be natural gas, so we backed off and began to notify neighbors to move to a safe area.

 “It was determined that, more than likely, the electricity that made contact with the tree followed the tree down into the root system and made contact with the underground natural gas line, causing it to rupture,” he said.

“Both NPPD and Black Hills Energy responded promptly and we all worked together to safely mitigate the situation as quickly as we could.

He said electricity was restored and gas rupture was controlled enough to allow residents to return to their homes about 9 p.m. Utility crews were back Wednesday to make more repairs.

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