Two New Mexico Gas Co. employees were injured when a natural gas line in northwest Santa Fe exploded Wednesday evening, causing a small brush fire, destroying a backhoe and trailer, and sending flames shooting high above their work site.
The utility company said Wednesday night that it appeared the two had been working on the gas line in a residential development under construction at the corner of Placita de Luna and Camino Francisca, near the Zocalo Santa Fe condominiums.
Flames spewing from the fire appeared to reach heights of about 40 feet and could be seen from N.M. 599, where police were called to help control traffic problems caused by gawkers slowing down on the highway to look at the fire.
Santa Fe police Capt. Aric Wheeler said one of the injured men was airlifted to University Hospital in Albuquerque for treatment of “extensive burns,” and the other man was treated at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center for burns suffered to his hands and arms.
Santa Fe police received reports of the fire at about 6:48 p.m. The fire was extinguished at about 8:15 p.m. after a New Mexico Gas Co. crew was able to shut off the gas.
Teala Kail, a spokeswoman for New Mexico Gas Co., did not release the names of the employees, citing medical privacy regulations. She said the two employees “were doing routine modification work on the distribution system.” However, she did not provide any specifics on the cause of the fire.
She also did not have an estimate on the extent of the damage.
The small brush fire ignited near the gas line spread to the backhoe the men were working with, then to the trailer that was used to carry the backhoe, Assistant Fire Chief Erik Litzenberg said.
Santa Fe firefighters secured the area and doused the brush fire by about 7:45 p.m. Several homes were evacuated during the fire, Wheeler said.
Litzenberg explained that in cases where a live natural gas line is burning, sometimes the safest thing to do is let the escaping gas burn until the line begins to run out of fuel.
Police controlled traffic around the area for about an hour until the New Mexico Gas Co. crew arrived and cut off the line.
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