Crews from Xcel Energy to investigate systems at Heather Gardens through Sunday

1534

AURORA | Residents of Heather Gardens will continue to see trucks from Xcel energy around the Aurora senior living community through this weekend, as investigators sort through debris and the charred remnants of several homes to determine what exactly led to a gas explosion that injured two and killed one last Friday.

So far, representatives from Xcel have only confirmed that a third-party contractor using boring equipment punctured an underground gas line, causing a leak. They have not identified the contractor.

Mark Stutz, a spokesman for Xcel, said crews will likely be conducting investigations around the explosion site on East Linvale Place through Sunday. 

Representatives from Aurora Fire have previously said the department’s investigation into the fire and explosion will likely take months.

Stutz said Xcel crews were cleaning up “minute pockets” of residual natural gas around Heather Gardens through last Sunday night, but that those efforts are now complete and any lingering gas should now be contained.

“We used a vacuum truck to make sure we cleaned up all the areas where the gas may have migrated,” he said. 

He did not specify exactly where that work took place. 

The gas lines and pilot lights for some 230 Heather Gardens residents were restored by about 7:30 p.m. last Saturday, Stutz said. He said crews waited around the neighborhood last Sunday to help assist at least two residents who weren’t home during the reconnection efforts Saturday.

Gas lines leading to residences in Aurora are typically located at least 3 feet underground, according to Stutz.

“Over time, you can have erosion or people doing landscaping on the surface … so that height can change,” he said. 

The gas-fueled explosion last week killed 82-year-old Carol Ross, according to the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office. One Aurora firefighter was temporarily hospitalized for injuries incurred while fighting the blaze, according to a spokesperson for Aurora Fire Rescue. The firefighter has since been released from the hospital.

Another civilian was also hospitalized following the fire. A GoFundMe page that references the fire says a man named Mike “was taken to the hospital with several major broken bones.” The campaign has raised more than $6,000 in four days.

The leak that caused the fire, which started around 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 16, was the second confirmed leak at Heather Gardens in three days. Xcel officials confirmed another gas leak occurred at the complex on Nov. 14.

Crews from Aurora Fire were already at Heather Gardens to address the gas leak last Friday evening when the explosion took place.

Aurora Fire reported an unrelated gas leak in the Murphy Creek neighborhood late Tuesday afternoon. After issuing a “shelter in place” message and closing several roads, officials sent an “all clear” message and announced the leak was contained at about 6:30 p.m. last night.

Aurora Fire Rescue and Xcel Energy are expected to release information regarding how many times each entity has responded to Heather Gardens in recent months. When that information will be released remains unclear. 

The Public Utilities Commission on Saturday asked Heather Gardens to voluntarily stop all underground construction projects in the community — which also comprises a metro district — so that investigators can “assess any further safety risks,” according to Terry Bote, a spokesman for the PUC.

He said a timeline for the moratorium is currently indefinite. 

Contractors working on behalf of Comcast were in the midst of laying new fiber optic cable at Heather Gardens, but stopped that work as of last Saturday, according to Leslie Oliver, spokeswoman for Comcast Colorado.

Oliver said Monday she didn’t know whether employees had come into contact with gas lines while completing the fiber optic work.