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‘What difference a day makes’: As BGE makes repairs following Pikesville gas explosion, neighbors feel relief

From the top of his horseshoe driveway in Pikesville, Rubin Schechman thanked the letter carrier for making an extra effort to drop his mail off next to the house.

“It’s going to take me a while to get a new mailbox,” Schechman quipped.

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His mailbox was scorched Friday afternoon when a gas main on Stevenson Road exploded, erupting into a ball of flames some estimated to extend 50-plus feet into the air. A utility vehicle was burned in the blaze, which melted power lines above. A lone, charred tree contrasted the green foliage behind it Saturday afternoon as crews worked to restore gas to about 200 people by nightfall.

About a dozen utility workers clad in neon yellow vests and white hardhats maneuvered around a ditch where a day earlier three of their co-workers repairing the main were injured. One of the workers was taken to Johns Hopkins’ Bayview Medical Center after suffering critical, life-threatening injuries. Authorities said the other workers’ injuries were minor.

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Spokespersons for Baltimore Gas & Electric and the Baltimore County Fire Department declined to provide an update on the worker’s condition Saturday, citing privacy concerns.

“Every member of the BGE team is behind our injured colleague and keeping them in our thoughts and prayers as they recover,” BGE spokeswoman Stephanie Weaver wrote in an email, citing employee and customer safeties as the company’s top priorities. “We’re committed to understanding the full details of the incident to learn from the event and take steps to help eliminate incidents like this.”

About half a mile of Stevenson Road was closed Saturday. Neighbors peered from their driveways. They briefed each other about the explosion. TV footage of the blaze brought people from farther away to check out the scene. Others just waited for a knock on the door, to acknowledge their gas had been restored.

Jill Wachs, 55, recounted the day after bringing her dog back from a walk.

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“I was home and I heard a load explosion,” Wachs said. Flames burned for hours after the burst.

Wachs and her neighbors on Birch Hollow Road had gotten to know the utility workers who’d been repairing the gas main for the better part of a week, she said. Wachs said her heart ached for the seriously injured employee and his family.

“It was a pretty devastating day on Birch Hollow,” she said, holding back tears.

Dozens of fire trucks and police cars rushed into the neighborhood Friday afternoon following the first 911 call around 3:49 p.m. About 20 fire units, including the hazmat team, were at the scene, Baltimore County Fire Director Tim Rostkowski said.

Fire crews could do little to quell the blaze until BGE shut gas off to the area. Firefighters mostly try to contain the fire, preventing it from spreading by dousing the surrounding area with water, Rostkowski explained. The fire department evacuated residents of the three closest houses.

“There’s not a whole lot we can do until they can shut the gas off,” Rostkowski said. “It usually burns so hot that if we do put water on it, it’s going to reignite.”

BGE eventually cut off the gas and, around 7:30 p.m., firefighters were able to control the flames.

Meanwhile, approximately 200 BGE customers lost gas after the company shut off service for fire mitigation. They remained without gas Saturday, though Weaver said crews worked overnight and continued repairs throughout the day with hopes of restoring gas that night. The company also launched an investigation into what caused the fire.

“Right now, we’re focused on obviously repairing and restoring customer service,” Weaver said. “The investigation is still ongoing, and details will be provided when we have them, but it’s going to take some time.”

Fire investigators with the Baltimore County Police Department are also investigating the blaze. A police spokeswoman did not immediately respond Saturday afternoon to questions about the investigation.

On Stevenson Road, Barbara Cohen answered her door to find a Baltimore Sun reporter.

“I was hoping you were the gas and electric company,” Cohen said.

She lives about four doors down from where the explosion happened. “It was scary. I was very worried ... you could see the trees were on fire,” Cohen said.

Cohen and her neighbor Herman Price have been eating leftovers since. Price was without heat overnight, the temperature in the house dropping into the 60s.

But Price was also haunted by the “roaring fire” he saw Friday, worried the gas could’ve spread and ignited a blaze at his home.

“Even though it’s unlikely,” he said, “it does go through your mind.”

Across the street from the burnt ditch, Schechman felt happy and relieved.

“You think about it, it could’ve been the house,” he said, citing the Northwest Baltimore gas explosion in August 2020 that left one dead and injured others.

Schechman watched Saturday afternoon as workers made repairs, sunshine baking down.

“What difference a day makes.”

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