Crews working on a water main in Saugus Monday punctured a gas main, causing the evacuation of a nearby strip mall and several houses, said Fire Chief Don McQuaid.
The 2-inch gas main, near 17 Pine St. behind the Augustine’s Plaza mall, was struck at 9:19 a.m., McQuaid said.
“They had a backhoe and were working on a water line and accidentally hit the gas pipe,” he said.
Firefighters sprayed water to push gas fumes away from nearby buildings and National Grid arrived to shut off the gas, McQuaid said. “The nice thing about natural gas is that it tends to go up,” McQuaid said. “But if you have the right conditions, it can definitely lead to fire explosions.”
The utility company cut off gas to 22 customers, said David Graves, a spokesman for National Grid.
Fifty-four people were evacuated from the area, including 18 patients receiving treatment at a dialysis center, McQuaid said. “They were moved over to the IHOP, which graciously accepted them to get them out of the cold,” he said.
Firefighters evacuated three homes, McQuaid said. Families were home in two of the houses, but firefighters had to force entry into the third and make sure there were no high gas readings.
By afternoon, the shopping center was been reopened and people were allowed to return to their homes, McQuaid said.
A National Grid crew repaired the gas main and three technicians worked to restore gas service by relighting the pilot lights inside affected buildings, Graves said.
McQuaid said the outcome was the best-case scenario for a potentially deadly situation.
“Nobody got hurt and everybody gets to go home,” he said. “The guys did a great job.”