A gas explosion at 126 Prince St. at 7:52 a.m. Saturday was apparently triggered by contractors working on behalf of Eversource. No serious injuries were reported, but the house had to be demolished.
The incident occurred just off Harris Avenue while the occupants of the house were not at home, which police and fire officials said prevented possible serious injury or even loss of life.
An Eversource spokesperson, Kaitlyn Woods, said the contractor was completing work to replace and move the home’s gas meter outside the residence. One of the contractors sustained a minor injury.
Kurt Bourdon, a state police trooper responding on behalf of the state fire marshal’s office, said one of the contractors was operating a backhoe that came in contact with the gas main leading into the house.
“The backhoe operator felt something grab so he knew he made contact with the gas line,” he said. “At that point, they ceased operations. They could hear gas expelling. That’s when they went into more or less emergency operations. They were banging on the house. They didn’t know if anybody was home. They were knocking on the doors very rapidly.”
The Needham Police officer assigned to work the construction detail immediately called 911.
“The gas line service to the house was ruptured by one of the construction tools which then backfilled the gas into the basement of the structure,” Bourdon said, based on his investigation.
“So you have a confined, contained gas element inside the house. Once it builds up to a certain percentage, any ignition source inside the house could potentially create an explosion. It could be as simple as a pilot or a heating system kicking on. With all that confined gas, then you have your explosion.”
The impact of the explosion, said Bourdon, was significant. “We have a debris field of approximately 20-30 feet into the exterior of the house and into the neighbor’s yard in the back.”
Bourdon said the 911 emergency call was made at 7:52 a.m. Needham Fire Chief Thomas Conroy said the department knew it was responding to an incident that involved a gas leak, which dictated the vehicles and equipment they deployed.
“They get here with the equipment we have,” Conroy said of the Fire Department’s protocol and the actions of the fire official in charge of the scene. “If he needs more help, he strikes a second alarm and we get more equipment from different communities.”
Conroy said the situation warranted a second alarm, which drew a response from neighboring communities. Equipment from Newton, Wellesley, Dedham and Westwood were at the scene.
“The main thing is to get the gas shut down,” Conroy said. “We won’t fight that fire until the gas is shut down because we don’t want to reignite.”
Once the gas was shut off by Eversource, firefighters began spraying the structure. Witnesses said there had been ample smoke, but no visible flame.
“By the appearance of the house, there could have been more injuries,” said Conroy.
According to police sources, the decision to demolish the home was made by the town’s building commissioner, Joseph Prondak, due to concern its structural instability represented a pressing public safety concern.
The demolition was completed by 4 p.m.