Emergency crews are responding to reports of multiple gas-related explosions and fires in three communities in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts on Thursday afternoon.
NBC10 Boston helicopter footage showed more than six houses smoking or in flames across the region, with a massive response from firefighters and police amid a problem with a gas line that feeds homes in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence. Andover fire officials said they struck a 10-alarm response, its maximum traditional fire response. More than 50 fire vehicles and 10 ambulances responded to the scene.
Massachusetts State Police said they have confirmed responses to 39 different addresses in the three communities for fires, explosions or investigations, and said the number will grow. They said troopers are assisting with scene security and traffic control after “multiple suspected gas explosions and structure fires.”
One home could be seen burning to the ground with no firefighters in sight as emergency crews scrambled to respond to the various scenes.
There is no word yet on whether anyone has been injured.
Andover is issuing an evacuation advisory for all residents and businesses. Anyone who knows how to safely turn off the gas service in their home or building is advised to do so. Some areas of North Andover and Lawrence are also being evacuated.
State police said anyone in the three towns who have Columbia Gas service should evacuate their homes “immediately” if they have not already done so. They said the gas lines are being depressurized, but it will take some time.
State and local police are helping to evacuate residents. Andover residents are being evacuated to the Senior Center at 30 Whittier Court. North Andover is evacuating residents to the middle school at 495 Main St.
Merrimac College in North Andover is asking students to evacuate from their buildings as a precaution while they turn the gas off. The college has cancelled classes for the rest of the night. No incidents have been reported on campus.
All off-ramps on Interstate 495 from exits 42 through 45 have been shut down. On ramps will remain open to allow for evacuations.
Lawrence Fire said they are responding to multiple incidents in the city where residents called saying there was a problem with the gas line in their house. Multiple fires have been reported.
Lawrence police Chief Roy Vasque told The Eagle-Tribune that he’s “never seen anything like this.”
Matthew Van Dyke of Lawrence said he saw four kids coming out of one building. All of them appeared to be injured.
Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement that he is “actively monitoring” the situation in the Merrimack Valley and communicating with first responders. He urged residents to “heed instructions from local officials for important public safety announcements, including evacuations and suspending gas usage.”
The state fire marshal’s office said it is sending multiple fire investigators to the Lawrence/North Andover area for the report of a high pressure gas main explosion that is impacting multiple houses.
State police fire investigators, detectives and crime scene personnel are also at various scenes. The FBI said it is also aware of the situation and is coordinating with state and local partners. Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency staff are also en route to provide support.
State police said it is “far too early” to speculate on the cause. They said a joint investigation will be conducted once the situation has been stabilized.
Columbia Gas said it has multiple crews headed to Lawrence and North Andover to assess the situation. They are asking anyone who smells gas to leave the area, and to avoid turning lights on or off, opening or closing doors or using cell or landline phones. Once they leave the area, they can call the Columbia Gas Emergency Line at 800-525-8222.