EDGEWATER -- Gasoline poured into a sewer system is believed to have caused an underground explosion that blew apart a manhole cover and forced 15 families from their homes early yesterday.
Capt. Gary Sheckells, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, said residents of the Londontown area heard the explosion about 4:40 a.m. The first call to the Fire Department didn't come until 5:30 a.m., however, when a man backing his car out of a driveway in the 1400 block of Oak Bluff Road ran over an open manhole.
Firefighters arriving at the scene detected a strong odor of gas in the neighborhood and in two houses. At least 40 people who live in the block were evacuated about 5:45 a.m.
Much of the next six hours was spent flushing the sewer line with 10,000 gallons of water. By 11:30 a.m., people were allowed to go back home. No injuries were reported.
Investigators have few leads, only a scant description of a man seen running away from the area. Officials said the man may have left a flashlight behind.
Area residents, who reported smelling gasoline in their homes for several days, said they heard one or two explosions. Two manhole covers were blown off; one was torn in half.
Fire officials said they believe gasoline was being dumped illegally into the sewer for about a week.
The disruptive morning was taken in stride by residents camped at the nearby Woodland Beach Volunteer Fire Station, where they were served coffee and doughnuts.
"This is our neighborhood block party," said Richard Howard, a builder who missed a morning of work. "We've been meaning to have one."
Captain Sheckells said the area houses no underground gasoline tanks. "There is nothing in this area that is leaking," he said.
By the time crews from the Maryland Department of the Environment arrived, spokesman Michael Sullivan said, most of the gas had dissipated.
Jody Vollmar of the Anne Arundel County Department of Utilities said the sewer line does not appear to have been damaged, although workers will perform tests to make sure. The line empties into the Annapolis Water Reclamation Facility, and Ms. Vollmar said officials are confident the gasoline will be diluted enough to prevent any problems.