Natural gas line bursts near Northwest D.C. school

By Martin Weil and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A high-pressure natural gas line burst with a loud bang Tuesday night outside a school in Northwest Washington, sending gas streaming into the neighborhood.

There was no indication of any injuries or damage to the school, Lafayette Elementary, or to nearby houses.

Although the cause of the break, which occurred at an outdoor gas meter, was not immediately known, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services said weather might have played a part.

The incident occurred shortly after 7 p.m. at the school, on Broad Branch Road and Northampton Street NW, about a half-mile east of Chevy Chase Circle NW in the Chevy Chase section of the District.

In the first few minutes, uncertainty and concern pervaded much of the residential neighborhood around the school after what people described as a loud noise, followed by the hiss and smell of escaping gas.

Preceded by the sound of sirens, firefighting equipment arrived quickly, lights flashing through the falling snow. Hazardous materials teams were among those sent to the scene.

"They're deciding whether" houses nearby were to be evacuated, said one neighbor.

Karen LeBan said some boys sledding in a nearby park, and a couple of her neighbors heard an explosion. Some residents said the hissing sound lasted 45 minutes. One said gas could be smelled two or three blocks away.

As snow fell steadily from the second major storm in five days, firefighters went to work at the gas meter near the flagpole outside the building.

The gas was shut off, and the hissing abruptly stopped. Checks for residual gas inside the school appeared negative, and no evacuations were reported.

Pete Piringer, the fire and EMS spokesman, said the incident was apparently caused by a valve malfunction at the meter associated with a high-pressure gas line.

The failure was of a type that sometimes occurs in extremely low temperatures, Piringer said.

He said the sudden escape of gas at high pressure can produce an explosive sound.

Staff writer Carol Leonnig contributed to this report.

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