The president of the company contracted to install fiber-optic cable next to M’s Pub said that he didn’t see the usual markings Thursday on the street and sidewalk that would indicate the gas lines that were hit by a crew boring under the sidewalk.
“That’s consistent with what our contractor indicated after the strike, that they didn’t see any indications of gas line being marked there,” said Jason Adkins, president of Unite Private Networks, which subcontracted with Minnesota-based North Central Service to bore the holes for the lines.
Adkins was on site Thursday as investigators melted the last ice and then dug into the sidewalk to determine the fire’s cause. Later on Thursday, the Omaha Fire Department announced its findings: The fire was an accident, caused when crews boring horizontally under the sidewalk struck a gas line that was the main gas feed to the building.
According to the Fire Department, the damaged line allowed gas to leach into the building’s basement. It ignited, causing the explosion and fire.
The Metropolitan Utilities District says evidence indicates that the line was marked accurately. The markings were still present Thursday, it said in a press release, before investigators began digging up the sidewalk.
The markings did show some wear and tear, “which is to be expected due to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, the winter weather conditions and all of the activity in that area on Jan. 9 in response to the incident,” the release said.
Calls placed to North Central Service officials were not returned. Adkins said representatives of the company met with MUD to walk the area on Dec. 10.
Adkins said his company would “get with investigators and various folks to determine whether it was or wasn’t marked properly,” Adkins said. “We are 100 percent supportive of getting to the truth. We want to know exactly what happened.”
MUD’s release noted that the responsibility for locating the depth of the line lies with the contractor, but the utility said there was no evidence of a prior excavation to determine the depth of the line.
Adkins said the crew had dug for line depth elsewhere in the area — a process called “potholing” — but not around the line that was hit.
“There was no potholing there because, from what we see ... it didn’t appear that there was any gas line marked,” he said. “If you don’t think something’s there, you wouldn’t have potholed it.”
MUD also addressed the time it took to shut off natural gas after the explosion — more than an hour. The utility recounted a number of failed attempts to cut off the gas feeding the fire by shutting valves in the area before a technician located the correct valve, which had been out of sight under a parked car.
The sidewalk on the east side of 11th Street, across from the fire, will reopen this afternoon, Assistant City Planning Director Jay Davis said.
World-Herald staff writer Chris Burbach contributed to this report.
Statement by the Fire Department
On Thursday 21 January 2016 the Omaha Fire Investigation Unit was able to conduct the scene examination into the cause of the fire at 422 S 11th St. During the course of the investigation and examination of the scene, Investigators were able to determine the following information:
Crews working to horizontal bore lines under the sidewalk in front of the building struck the gas service line that was the main gas feed to the building.
This was verified and documented by removing the sidewalk area above the gas line and then excavating the dirt to expose the gas line. This revealed obvious damage to the gas line. This damaged section of gas line allowed the gas to leach into the basement of the building. Once in the basement of the building a credible ignition source ignited the gas, causing the ensuing explosion and fire.
After these findings, this fire has been determined to be an accidental fire.