Natural gas fueled car fires, Minneapolis firefighters say

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 6, 2012 - 8:50 PM

The gas line ignited, three cars were burned and a street melted in Dinkytown after a lightning-charged storm dropped the power line.

Lawns are emerald green, young trees are thriving, and drought fears are dimming in the wake of weekend rain across southern Minnesota, but the storms that carried it caused some problems in the Twin Cities metro area.

Lightning sparked at least three fires, including a spectacular overnight blaze in southeast Minneapolis' Dinkytown area. No one was hurt in any of the fires.

For even the most seasoned firefighters, the Dinkytown blaze, in which natural gas beneath the asphalt ignited and fed flames that destroyed three cars, was a challenge.

At 2:25 a.m. Sunday, they raced to a call of wires down and a car fire, apparently due to lightning. In front of a house in the 700 block of 8th Avenue SE., a live power line was sparking in the middle of the street and flames engulfed one parked car, said Cherie Penn, assistant Minneapolis fire chief. A nearby house was evacuated as a precaution, and Xcel Energy was summoned.

Firefighters then realized that a natural gas line under the street had also ignited, making it more difficult to douse the vehicle fire. They then called in CenterPoint Energy. The fire spread to two more vehicles and a tree as firefighters went door-to-door notifying occupants, Penn said.

Fire crews and CenterPoint personnel detected high levels of gas in the soil near the street. Asphalt began to melt and buckle.

Just before 6 a.m., a Metro Transit bus rolled up in case a larger evacuation was needed. Authorities let the vehicles burn to burn off the natural gas so it wouldn't spread underground. Digging crews from CenterPoint arrived, pinching off the first gas line supplying that area at 7 a.m. and the rest of the area within an hour. Firefighters then extinguished the blazing cars and asphalt.

Lightning is also suspected of starting two fires in Oakdale on Saturday, one at a house in the 2600 block of Hillvale Trail and one in a garage in the 4500 block of Helmo Place N.

Heavy rain created other problems, flooding farm fields and making Powderhorn Park too soggy for the Heart of the Beast Theatre's May Day festival. It's rescheduled for next Sunday.

Fierce weather should be absent for the first part of this week, forecasters said. Monday will be sunny, with a high of 68 and an overnight low of 47.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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