After the Blast

January 23, 1995

Residents of Westminster's Autumn Ridge neighborhood spent this weekend thanking divine providence or their lucky stars that Thursday's devasting natural gas explosion didn't kill or injure any one. They thanked the dozens of emergency response volunteers who quickly mobilized to efficiently deal with aftermath of this horrendous accident.

An unfortunate collection of circumstances resulted in this disaster. Utility companies have well-publicized programs to prevent contractors from severing buried gas, electric and telephone lines. The utility lines around this neighborhood had been marked off for a contractor installing cable television wire.

Nevertheless, a workman punctured a gas main. It took BGE crews about 1 1/2 hours to shut off the gas. Apparently, enough gas seeped underground into the basement of an unoccupied house. When a sump pump kicked on during the soggy midday, 1 1/2 hours after the main had been closed, the gas ignited.

Luckily, the accident took place in the early afternoon, when most of the community's residents were at work or school. For people who were in their homes and the workmen outside on the job, they were fortunate. None were injured by falling ceilings, flying glass or the sheer force of the blast, which tossed insulation a mile away.

Within minutes after the explosion, volunteer fire and rescue squads from across Carroll County responded as well as specialized rescue teams from neighboring Baltimore County.

Even more remarkable was the quick response of county and Red Cross emergency personnel who set up a shelter at the National Guard Armory on Hahn Road to handle displaced homeowners. Local businesses donated food, drinks and toys. Children, many of whom had no idea their homes were destroyed, were dropped off at the armory where they could meet their parents.

Although nearly 20 families were left homeless, all found shelter in homes of family or neighbors. The clean-up will take months and millions of dollars. About a half-dozen homes were so severely damaged they will have to demolished and rebuilt.

After the insurance adjusters finish their work, the residents of Autumn Ridge can take comfort that all the damage is repairable.

The rest of us can also be thankful that efficient response ensured an orderly aftermath to Westminster's big explosion.

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