August 10, 2020
By CHRISTINE CONDON, BALTIMORE SUN
At least one woman is dead and several other people are seriously injured after a gas explosion Monday morning that decimated three homes near the Reisterstown Road Plaza shopping center in Northwest Baltimore.
While the cause of the explosion still isn’t clear, homeowners should be mindful of the potential for gas explosions, and what to do in the case of a gas leak, experts say.
What should you do if you smell gas?
If you smell the “rotten eggs” odor characteristic of a gas leak, Baltimore Gas and Electric recommends you leave the area immediately, before contacting its emergency gas service line (877-778-7798). You may also hear the hissing of natural gas escaping, or see fire coming from the ground, dirt being blown into the air or dead vegetation in a green area.
You should avoid turning anything on before escaping to a safe area — not even a light switch, flashlight, car, garage door or cell phone — BGE’s website says, and you should not light a match. Homes that don’t use gas can still experience gas leaks from outdoors, BGE’s website states.
How do gas explosions occur?
Explosions occur when natural gas is released into a home and catches fire. That’s why BGE recommends that customers don’t turn on anything before leaving their home if they smell gas. Doing so could create a spark, causing the gas to ignite.
“Not always do you have as violent of an explosion that I saw on the news with Baltimore. Sometimes you just get a ‘whoosh’,” said Ron Hopkins, president of the National Association of Fire Investigators. “You’ll have a small flash fire, but you’re not going to have enough power to have a very large explosion.”
Older pipes are more prone to leaks, experts say, but leaks can also occur if someone digs into a line, so Marylanders should call 811 at least two business days before digging to ensure service lines are properly marked.
“With underground lines, if they’re not damaged by somebody failing to call before you dig … we do have corroding or weakening of old systems,” Hopkins said. “It’s a matter of time.”
Reporting from The Sun last year revealed that BGE likely needs to replace thousands of miles worth of outdated pipelines.
How can you prevent leaks?
Homeowners should always hire qualified professionals to install gas appliances and should never attempt to do so themselves, according to Columbia Gas of Maryland’s website.
“I am a believer of that,” Hopkins said. “I’ve got some propane in the house, and I had to move my grill. I had a plumber come out just to make sure.”
Homeowners should also contact a professional if they notice any changes with their appliances, like no heat or overheating from their furnace/boiler, a yellow flame or the presence of soot around a burner on their gas stove, or their furnace or hot water heater fan often kicking on and off, the Columbia Gas website said.
Homeowners should also schedule regular inspections for their gas appliances and piping, according to Columbia Gas.
“It’s important to have your natural gas appliance connectors checked by a qualified professional. Some older uncoated brass flexible connectors are more susceptible to failure, which could lead to a gas leak if not replaced,” the website read.
Homeowners should also avoid storing natural gas or heat-producing appliances in the same room as flammable materials, like gasoline, spray paints, solvents, insecticides, varnish, cleaning products and other pressurized containers. They should also avoid storing combustible materials nearby, including rags, mops and paper.
“If you’re stacking things too close and blocking the air intake, or if you’re stacking things up, and you have something fall over, it may knock a pipe loose,” Hopkins said. “It’s all about housekeeping.”