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Natural gas blast, fire sends two to hospital

A rod driven into an underground gas line is the cause and shows the importance of locating utilities ahead of time

Investigators have determined that a natural gas explosion Monday afternoon outside Tigard was caused by somone driving a ground rod into an existing natural gas line.

Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue initially responded to the fire that destroyed a house at 16229 S.W. Stahl Drive outside Tigard, slightly damaged another one and injured two people.

Homeowners Michael and Kim White were having remodeling work done on their two-story home when contractors reported a natural gas smell.

Kim White, 42, was initially alone inside the home, but after her 8-year-old daughter Madeleine arrived home from school, she noticed the rotten egg smell growing worse.

She had already called Northwest Natural for the contractors and called a second time before evacuating.

A few minutes later, gas company workers arrived, and two of them began looking next to the garage for the leak. A crew leader was walking toward the home to meet White when the blast occurred, according to Storm Smith, TVF and R community liaison.

'The explosion knocked the garage door 20 feet into the driveway atop a Ford SUV and shoved outward a wall on the west side of the garage,' he said. 'The SUV also sustained heavy fire damage.'

The two Northwest Natural employees closest to the house were injured and were treated at the scene by TVF and R firefighter/paramedics before being transported to Legacy Emanuel Hospital by Metro West Ambulance. All others escaped injury.

On Tuesday, J.R. Gonzales, head of the Oregon Public Utility Commission's safety staff division, confirmed the cause of the fire.

'This unfortunate incident in Tigard exemplifies the importance of the Call Before You Dig Law,' he said. 'This incident highlights how important it is for everyone, including homeowners, to make a phone call before digging.'

According to Gonzales, most people never consider the small jobs they are doing around their homes, including planting bushes and trees, installing sprinkler systems or even placing a real estate sign or mailbox, as excavating.

Firefighters from Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue were dispatched to the scene at 3:51 p.m. With a visual sighting of 40-foot flames and a report that a neighbor's home had ignited from the heat, fire officers requested a second alarm to bring additional resources.

Altogether, 40 firefighters from TVF and R and the Lake Oswego Fire Department battled the blaze.

According to Smith, the damage estimate will likely top $350,000.

To call the Oregon Utility Notification Center, dial 1-800-332-2344.

The center is staffed 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The service of marking underground utilities is free.