The ‘Heartbreaking' Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions, 1 Year Later

"We lost pretty much everything," said Ismael Rivera, who a year ago watched his home in Lawrence burn

What to Know

  • For months, residents and businesses were without hot water or gas as crews worked to fix about 50 miles of pipelines in the communities.

One year ago Friday, Ismael Rivera's wife heard a clicking sound coming from their stove.

She called him, and he called 911.

"I screamed at them to get out of the house," he remembered.

Minutes later, they watched from across the street as their home on Salem Street in Lawrence burned.

"We lost pretty much everything," he said. "To see pictures from our kids being born charred up — it was heartbreaking. It was not a nice picture to see."

The fire was part of a series of explosions across the Merrimack Valley on Sept. 13, 2018.

In all, the fires damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes across Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney exploded, crushing his car.

At least 25 others suffered injuries, and about 8,000 people were displaced. Thousands of customers of Columbia Gas, the utility blamed for the explosions, were left without gas service, including heat and hot water, during the winter months. The explosions were blamed on over-pressurized natural gas lines.

"The basement was completely charred, there was things tossed everywhere, windows were broken," said Rivera, whose home was condemned shortly after the fire.

After spending months in an apartment while crews renovated their house, Rivera and his family are now in the process of returning home.

They plan to move back on Friday, the one year anniversary of the explosions.

"We never wanted to leave this area," he said. "We love this area. We love our neighbors."

Columbia Gas agreed in July to pay $143 million to settle all class action lawsuits related to the disaster.

The settlement is part of the $1 billion in funds dedicated to address the disaster relief. Columbia Gas has said it is continuing to process claims made in connection to the explosions.

Contact Us