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Waxahachie family alleges gas, not electric, caused fire

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J. HOSKINS & A. JAMES

The Ellis County Press

WAXAHACHIE - Explosions, fires and 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, north of Dallas.

Now, after their investigations, WFAA-TV 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 Channel 8 aired.

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

Area residents the paper spoke with, including some relatives of the victim in last weekend’s fire, said they have been alarmed at what was uncovered.

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

Relatives of the Waxahachie incident alleged Atmos of not taking care of the problem when calls were made complaining of leaking gas as early as the week before July 4, days before the incident occurred.

The Waxahachie Fire Department and the Waxahachie Daily Light ruled and reported the fire as electrical in nature.

The Ellis County Press

was at the scene – and obtained exclusive permission from the family – Tuesday during the paper’s deadline and reported smelling natural gas along Church Street, where the incident took place.

Atmos reportedly claimed no pressure was going into the residence, yet the smell of gas allegedly remained.

Waxahachie Fire Chief David Hudgins on Tuesday confirmed the gas was disconnected several days prior to the fire because of leaks, which he said would be the responsibility of the homeowner to contact a plumber to fix it.

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

Hudgins said 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.

The incident killed a 22-year-old relative of the family, according to investigators.

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.

Relatives of the victim disagree with Hudgins’ assessment, which they allege of being biased due to the "east" part of town the burned out house is located.

The family said an Atmos representative made a second trip to the residence and reportedly said, "there must be a gas leak" and that "[gas] was building up under house."

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

While 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. They still maintain the WFD and the Daily Light of attempting to cover up the incident.

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 show there was the danger for pullouts and failures, and warned gas companies nationwide about the danger.

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.

According to officials with the railroad commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, more than 100,000 of these couplings remain in the ground.

Atmos denies any responsibility and maintains they are safe.

Now, after the explosion, 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, which denied any responsibility in the Waxahachie incident, released a statement on their Web site regarding the issue. The link can be found here: http://www.atmosenergy.com/home/safety/couplings.html.

Atmos said they have pulled out and replaced more than 4,000 of these couplings.

However, thousands still remain in the Ellis County area. Atmos blamed cost for the replacement pace of the couplings, but from 2007 until recently, Atmos reported over 500 leaks, according to their public relations department.


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