Family has close call in gas explosion

Thursday, January 1st 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

FAIRFAX, Okla. (AP) _ A doctor's appointment may be the reason Debbie Choate and her family are alive.

Choate's home was destroyed Tuesday afternoon when a natural gas leak caused a vacant house next door to explode. Its roof landed on the home Choate rented and both homes were destroyed by fire.

Choate and her family weren't home at the time. She had taken her 11-year-old twin boys to a doctor's visit about a mile away.

``It exploded at 3:30. We pulled into the doctor's office at 3:30,'' Choate said. ``We barely missed it.''

The blast was caused by a natural gas leak apparently made by a contracting crew boring a line less than a block from the houses, State Fire Marshal Robert Doke said.

Utility officials shut off gas to all 700 of the town's meters after the blast, which shook nearby residences.

``I heard of stuff being knocked off shelves and being broken in the area,'' said Ann Martin, deputy city clerk.

The contracting crew was installing fiber optic cable, Martin said. The boring machine struck a 2-inch natural gas line operated by the city, said Don Sherry, spokesman for Oklahoma Natural Gas.

ONG sells gas to the city, which handles distribution, he said.

Officials are still investigating the cause of the explosion. It may have started when leaking gas migrated into the vacant home through a sewer line.

It was not clear if Choate's home exploded, he said.

Tuesday night, ONG provided a natural gas tank truck to heat a nursing home, while a hospital used backup electric heat. American Red Cross volunteers opened a shelter at a church.

Crews from several cities worked to repair the leak, then purged gas lines across town in preparation for restoration of gas service.

Crews would have to visit each home and business to restart gas appliances, Sherry said.

Gas service was restored to some homes late last night and crews are expected to finish up Thursday.

``We were fortunate in that the weather could have been much colder,'' Sherry said of unseasonably warm temperatures.

Many of Fairfax's 1,700 residents have offered to help Choate, who recently quit her job as a restaurant manager because of health problems.

``I ain't had to do anything,'' she said. ``When something like this happens in Fairfax, everybody comes together.''


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