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Natural gas leak blamed as blast destroys vacant UNM-area house

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Tyler Johnson, a University of New Mexico education professor, was teaching class online Monday morning when the walls of his house shook. One of his students, taking the class from her home nearby, also felt it and went outside to look. She reported back that there was thick black smoke billowing into the air.

A vacant house, several blocks away on Princeton near Constitution NE, had exploded due to a gas leak.

No one was injured in the explosion, but the house was destroyed. All that remained was charred rubble.

A neighbor across the street recounted hearing a loud rushing sound and then watching out of the window as the house “kind of popped” and big orange flames rushed out of it.

She said that her home and car were unscathed but that she had to clean a great deal of debris and glass from her front yard.

Erik Stout, whose family has owned the house for decades, said the three-bedroom pueblo-style home was vacant and they were looking to rent it out. He said a heater needed to be replaced, so some workers had turned off the gas.

“They had gone to turn all the gas off at the meter, which is on the opposite side of the house,” Stout said. “The key that they turned to turn all the gas off to the house broke, so I guess the gas was shooting out.”

Tom Ruiz, a spokesman for Albuquerque Fire Rescue, said that shortly after 10:30 a.m., firefighters were called to the 1200 block of Princeton NE for reports of a gas leak. Minutes later, they were called for the explosion and fire.

“Engine 3 arrived on scene and reported the house to be fully involved in flames and declared a defensive fire,” Ruiz wrote in an email. “The source of the fire was from a natural gas explosion from inside the home and firefighters established a safe zone for New Mexico Gas to control the blowing gas line.”

He said New Mexico Gas was able to “successfully mitigate the gas line” and firefighters extinguished the fire.

Five houses in the area were evacuated, and the house directly to the north was damaged, Ruiz said.

“I know one door was blown out from the explosion,” he said. “And it sustained some fire and water damage due to the close proximity.”

Midafternoon Monday, the street remained blocked off as gas and water crews continued to work in the area. Neighbors milled around, checking on one another, and helping to pick up glass and other remnants.

“No one was hurt; that’s what matters,” Stout said.

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