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Fatal fire ruled electrical, family suspects natural gas leak

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J. Hoskins & A. James

The Ellis County Press

 

WAXAHACHIE-  A fatal fire in Waxahachie has claimed the life of  22-year-old Jamatrian Davis. The fire reportedly broke out around 1:30 a.m., on July 4 in the 100 block of Church Street in Waxahachie.


While the cause of the fire has been ruled electrical in origin by the Waxahachie Fire Marshal, witnesses and victims of the fire believe natural gas was involved.  

 

Despite the ruling on the fire, controversy continues to surround the ruling by the Waxahachie Fire Department. 

 

Between June 27 and June 29, the residents reportedly called Atmos and said that they smelled gas.  The Atmos energy representative allegedly made no repairs.  On July 1, another phone call was placed to Atmos regarding a gas leak.

 

A few days later, a fire occurred at their residence.  One that some believe is a result of a natural gas explosion.

 

Atmos reportedly claimed no pressure was going into the residence, yet the smell of gas allegedly remained.  The gas appliances did not work, however.

 

Fire Chief David Hudgins on Tuesday confirmed that the gas was disconnected several days prior to the fire because of leaks, which is the responsibility of the home owner to contact a plumber to fix.

 

Once leaks were still detected, the gas was left disconnected by the service representative, according to Hudgins.

 

Hudgins stated that there was an extension cord bundled up on the floor, which was believed to be the ignition source and point of origin, which is the location where a fire began. 

 

When electricity goes through a bundled cord, according to Hudgins, it causes the cord to overheat.  The cord was believed to have been connected to a window air conditioner unit at 110 volts. 

 

According to Hudgins, the air conditioner had to work harder because of the outside temperature and day time heating to keep the residence cool, and that because of this, the extension cord overheated triggering the blaze.

 

However, family members disagree.  They blame a natural gas explosion.

 

The family said that the Atmos representative reportedly on the 2nd trip to the residence said, “that there must be a gas leak and that it was building up under their house”, however, the family said that Atmos again reported no pressure entering the residence, as the gas was shut off.

 

The residents claimed they had been smelling gas as since around June 27, and that they called Atmos two times. 

 

There have been other fires and explosions at several residences in North Texas which had no gas service, where gas leaked under the residence.  The family believes that this may be the case here.

 

Early in the morning on  July 4, the fatal fire occurred.  When asked Tuesday if the possibility of natural gas involvement was investigated by the fire department, Hudgins said, “that the gas was disconnected several days prior to the fatal fire because of leaks, and that there was no gas service to the residence at the time of the fire”. 

 

Some family members believe neither the fire department nor The Waxahachie Daily Light looked into the issue of a natural gas element, because of their location in the community. 

 

However, according to Chief Hudgins, that was not the case, and the issue was investigated.

 

Another Ellis County Press reporter on scene at press time reported the smell of a strong natural gas odor in the neighborhood in front of the residence.  The ECP contacted the Waxahachie Fire Department, who is dispatching a fire unit as of 4:20 pm on Tuesday.

 

 

Despite history of failures and explosions, leading to deaths and injuries, Atmos continues allow to couplings to remain

 

Explosions, fires, lives shattered with multiple fatalities and injuries.  The cause: natural gas explosions.   The issue first came to light several years ago when WFAA-TV, Channel 8 of Dallas began investigating house explosions in Collin County.  Now, after their investigations, they found and made public the potential cause, a non-restraint, compression coupling, which connects the gas line to the residence.  These fittings were installed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, according to the previous reports that Channel 8 aired. 

 

While The Ellis County Press was investigating a fire in Waxahachie, that was ruled unrelated to natural gas, and was ruled electrical, the issue of the couplings in Ellis County came up.

 

Area residents we spoke with today said they have been alarmed at what was uncovered, that many of these couplings remain.

 

They want Atmos Energy to do more to remove them, but Atmos, according to the residents we spoke to seem to be taking their time, while their lives are at risk.

 

The Texas Railroad Commission has on file records from the National Transportation Safety Board and other entities documentation to prove that these couplings pose a danger.   These documents stated that there was the danger for pullouts and failures, and warned gas companies nationwide about the danger.

 

According to Channel 8, they obtained information from Rockwell, the manufacturer of the couplings that they would not meet federal standards.    There have been numerous explosions because of this failure in the area.  

 

Channel 8 reports that in 1980 a house explosion in Keller left one dead, three were injured in 1998 in an Arlington explosion.  In 2000, one was killed and one injured in an explosion in North Richland Hills.  Four seriously injured in Dallas in 2001.  Two dead in 2006 in Wylie.   May 2007, two dead, three injured in a Cleburne gas explosion.

 

The common factor here:  gas coupling failures, attributed to the failures Channel 8 uncovered during their 2007 investigation.  .

 

According to officials with the Texas Railroad Commission, over 100k of these couplings remain in the ground.  Atmos denies any responsibility, and maintains they are safe.  The Texas Railroad Commission also maintains this, despite warnings from the manufacturer and the federal government.  In an unrelated explosion, a gas line was struck recently in McKinney, leading to 3 families lives being left in ruins.  Once out of the distribution system, the gas can have fatal results, leaving many lives ruined and scarred, forever.

 

Now, after all these explosions, and after countless lives have been lost, the State is now reversing course.  The federal government has issued a nationwide alert warning of the dangers of these fittings.    The US Department of Transportation has issued a mandate to gas companies to increase their inspection and replacement program.  Atmos released a statement on their website regarding the issue.  The link can be found here: http://www.atmosenergy.com/home/safety/couplings.html.   A manufacturer of the couplings has filed a response to the US DOT Pipeline Safety and Hazard Administration.  They wanted the mandate modified.  That request can be found at http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/ContentViewer?objectId=09000064805231d8&disposition=attachment&contentType=pdf.   Their interest in this, their product and the customer, the gas companies. 

 

Atmos Energy says they have pulled out and replaced over 4k of these couplings, however, thousands upon thousands remain across their service area.  The reason they weren’t replaced until now: the cost.   A cost to the company that may have cost many lives.    From 2007 until recently, Atmos reports over 500 coupling leaks, and several catastrophic failures, according to their public information liaisons.  Nationwide, there have been many explosions and lives shattered, despite the government having known about the problem for nearly 3 decades.

 

 

-Sources:  WFAA-TV, Texas Railroad Commission, Atmos Energy, US Department of Transporation Pipeline Hazard and Safety Administration


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