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Gas leaks reported to Atmos for weeks before fatal Texas explosion, report finds

SNL Image

A family of five was sleeping when this Dallas home exploded. Four were injured, and a 12-year-old was killed.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board

SNL Image

A resident was thrown several feet in an explosion and received second-degree burns.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board

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A fire originating on a stove moved to the residence's attic, causing fire and smoke damage that destroyed the home.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board

For almost two months before a Feb. 23 house explosion killed a 12-year-old girl, Atmos Energy Corp. had been getting gas odor calls for the neighborhood where the rupture happened, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

The safety regulator's review of Atmos' odor reports and activity in the affected Dallas neighborhood showed that leaks were first found there Jan. 1, according to a March 23 preliminary report.

The National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, has so far found three pipe sections in the area that failed pressure tests, including one circumferentially cracked piece from behind the exploded residence.

In the days leading up to the fatal rupture, the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department responded to two other incidents within a few hundred feet of the house explosion, the NTSB noted.

In one case, residents noticed a popping noise and a snuffed pilot light in the home's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system shortly before an explosion and fire. In the other instance, a resident said flames on the stove were "red and out of control" and ultimately caught parts of the house on fire. In both incidents, residents were left with second-degree burns.

Before the Feb. 23 explosion, Dallas Fire-Rescue arson investigators had said these other two incidents had "undetermined" causes.

While there was significant damage to the structure that exploded Feb. 23, Dallas Fire-Rescue told the NTSB that the department had not encountered any smoke or flames at the house when they arrived.

"However, based on the nature of these two incidents, the NTSB is investigating whether these three incidents are related," the board said in its preliminary report.

After the deadly explosion, Atmos began conducting leak surveys in the area. Finding an unexpected number of leaks, the company decided to shut off service to 2,800 customers and replace all the distribution mains and service lines in that part of northwestern Dallas. Atmos executives said March 1 that a combination of uncommonly heavy rains and geologic conditions put pressure on the pipeline system and caused leaks.

Atmos, the Railroad Commission of Texas, and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are participating in the NTSB's investigation.