Which gas leaves trees at night

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A ruptured gas line caused an explosion and massive fire that left an 18-foot-deep crater in an area of Orion Township near the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets mall on Monday night, authorities say.

A fire was reported shortly after 9:52 p.m., when Consumers Energy noticed a drop in pressure on its gas system, the energy company said in a news release. 

Orion Township fire personnel received a 911 call from someone nearby who said there was a gas leak and it sounded like a jet engine, township supervisor Chris Barnett said. 

Barnett said that they've had gas main breaks before but nothing of this magnitude. He said the fire — which occurred in an area north of Brown Road near Joslyn Road, near the border with Auburn Hills — had flames 100- to 150-feet wide and up to 200-feet high. The flames could be seen from downtown Detroit, more than 30 miles away.

Emergency personnel work at the site of a ruptured gas line that caused an explosion and fire in Orion Township near the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets mall on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)

"The good news is this is an area that’s soon-to-be developed but not developed yet," Barnett said, adding that the only items near the main break were equipment including flatbed trailers. A Menards store is being developed on the north side of Brown Road, Barnett said.

Residents in the area who were ordered to evacuate their homes were able to return early Tuesday morning, Auburn Hills Police reported on its Twitter account.

Consumers Energy said that the cause of the eruption and fire is under investigation. What officials do know is that a 22-inch diameter steel transmission line ruptured, and that the fire burned itself out after the flow of gas was cut off on either end of a seven-mile section of the transmission line.The gas was shut off by 11:10 p.m. and the fire was out sometime after midnight or 1 a.m., Consumers Energy spokesperson Roger Morgenstern said.

“We inspected the site of the ruptured gas line and surrounding area and found nothing suspicious or unusual relating to an intentional act,” Captain Mel Maier of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said in an e-mail.

Maier said the sheriff’s office was not aware of any injuries directly related to the fire or explosion. The explosion’s blast area encompassed 30 to 40 yards around the crater and exposed about 30 feet of the natural gas line, Maier said.

The section of the pipeline that was isolated stretched from around the scene of the fire to Dixie Highway and M15, said Morgenstern, who described the incident as "uncommon" and said it typically does not happen with transmission lines, which carry gas at a high pressure–this particular one at 600 pounds per square inch. 

"This is like the highway for gas transportation and this line is not directly connected to any customers," Morgenstern said. "So we were able to isolate this 22-inch diameter pipe."

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The last time there was a transmission line rupture was in July 2016, when a vehicle struck a line at a DTE site on Greenfield Road in Melvindale, said Michigan Public Service Commission spokesman Nick Assendelt, who also said such a rupture is "not common at all," in an email.

The commission investigates pipeline incidents and will be working with Consumers Energy to determine the cause of Monday's incident but can't speculate, Assendelft said. 

"But different gas transmission line ruptures around the state in past have been caused by a number of different factors, including outside force, natural force, material or equipment failure, incorrect operations, excavation damage, or corrosion," Assendelft said. 

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Ed Holm, owner of Orion Stone Wholesale, said the explosion happened near the back of his property, which is 1,400 feet deep on the north side of Brown Road.

He said he received a call late last night from his daughter, who lives nearby. When he got to his business on Brown Road, west of Joslyn, he saw flames shooting 200 to 300 feet in the air.

“I I knew that the pipeline was there, but it’s never been a problem,” he said. 

The fire did not damage the building that houses Holm’s business but it destroyed six trailers that he uses to transport stone and other material. 

The heat from the fire caused the tires of the trailers to ignite. 

“It was so hot that it melted the aluminum on the deck of the trailers,” Holm said. 

Holm estimated that the pipeline was about 20 feet below ground level near the back of his property. The property behind his is undeveloped and covered with woods, which caught fire. 

Even after fire crews put out the flames from the gas, the trees still lit up the night with embers on their trunks, Holm said. 

Natural gas service was not interrupted because of the incident, Consumers Energy said. 

Service has been restored to all 911 and 10-digit non-emergency telephone services at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and countywide public safety answering points, according to Maier.

Free Press writer Bill Laitner contributed to this report. Contact Hasan Dudar at [email protected]

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An image of a fire in Orion Twp. from a tweet from the Auburn Hills Police Department.(Photo: Auburn Hills Police Department)

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