Updated at 11 p.m. ET
Massachusetts State Police have confirmed officials are responding to 70 house fires, explosions or reports of gas odors — possibly caused by gas leaks — around the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Thursday evening.
Officials urged all residents in the area who are Columbia Gas customers to evacuate, “as should anyone else who smells gas.”
Thirteen people injured in the gas explosions were receiving treatment at Lawrence General Hospital. Officials there reported in a tweet that injuries included smoke inhalation and blast truma and that one person in critical condition was transported to a Boston trauma center.
“Cases range from smoke inhalation to traumatic blast injuries,” the hospital said.
At least three people have been injured in Andover, including one firefighter and two civilians, town officials said in a statement.
It is unclear whether the people wounded in Andover are part of the group receiving care at Lawrence General Hospital.
“There is no expectation people will be able to get into their houses this evening,” Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said at a news conference.
Gov. Charlie Baker said, “The depressurization of the lines in the shutdown was designed to ensure that there would be no more fires this evening,” although he added firefighters will continue to extinguish fires throughout the night.
Public schools in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover will be closed on Friday because of the fires.
Andover Town Manager Andrew P. Flanagan, Police Chief Patrick E. Keefe and Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said Andover fire responders had put out a total of 35 fires. “At peak, 18 fires were burning at the same time,” they said, adding that all fires have been extinguished and fire crews will remain in the town throughout the evening.
Columbia Gas has been shutting off all service to customers in all three towns, MPS officials said in a tweet. Electric power was also turned off.
MSP said it was too early to know the cause of the explosions and fires.
The Associated Press reported:
“Columbia Gas company had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there Thursday, and a spokeswoman did not immediately comment.”
Before evacuating from North Andover, Jeremy Melvin described a chaotic scene near the plumbing shop where he works.
“We have people running to their cars. Multiple fires. There’s smoke lining from one end of my vision to the other,” Melvin told WBUR’s Lynn Jolicoeur.
State Police troopers and local police are helping evacuate residents. Off-ramps into the towns have been closed while on-ramps remain open to allow residents to get out of the affected areas.
Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon told USA Today there are so many fires, “you can’t even see the sky.”
The state police said gas lines are currently being depressurized by the company but warned that may take some time.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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