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Gas fire destroys home

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Questions remain on whether city-side leak led to explosion

By Mercy Lopez

John Singletary had a rude awakening on Wednesday morning. The 73-year-old woke up to an explosion near the kitchen in his home at 1925 Church St.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated, according to the state fire marshall’s office in Santa Fe. However, questions remain as to which side of the meter the gas that caused the fire came from.

Singletary walked away unharmed from the fire and explosion that shook Old Town, but he remains in shock, according to his son-in-law, Pete Mares. People as far away as the Plaza area reported feeling a blast around the same time the explosion occurred.

“He heard this huge explosion that woke him up,” Mares said of his father-in-law. “He got up and saw his kitchen engulfed in frames. He is in shock but is doing well, considering.”

Singletary was in the house with his dog Spencer, and both were able to escape the blazing flames without serious injury. Mares said he heard and felt the explosion at his house on Armijo Street a few blocks from his father-in-law's home.

The questions that remain unanswered relate to where the natural gas came from, and what caused the explosion.

Mares said he believes the explosion was the result of a gas leak from pipeline that runs near the east side of the house.

“There were blue flames about 16 inches coming out of the sewer exhaust vent,” Mares said while pointing to the pipe. “Gas burns blue, and I told a firefighter about it.”

Mares said the firefighter told his colleagues, and natural gas was shut off to neighboring houses. The city released a statement that 10 to 12 customers had their gas turned off.

It is widely known to Las Vegas’ residents that natural gas consumers are responsible for the gas lines between the meter and the dwelling, while the city is responsible for the lines that lead up to the meter.

Yvette Arellanes and Lawrence Quintana live on Valencia Street, about a block south of the Singletary house. At about 4 a.m. they said they were awakened by the explosion. They looked outside and saw flames coming from the Singletary home.

Arellanes said she was very worried because they were evacuated.

Both then recalled how they saw blue flames coming out of a manhole on Church Street close to their home. When they got outside in freezing temperatures they could smell the strong odor of natural gas.

“When we looked out, all we could see were flames coming over our fifth wheel camper-trailer,” Arellanes said. “I was worried that the fire was next door.”

Upon their evacuation from their home, Quintana and Arellanes saw the fire spread from the north end of the Singletary house and continue its way south.

Singletary’s northern neighbor, Carmen Martinez, said that she felt the explosion while sleeping. She looked out after going to investigate the cause of the noise and saw her neighbor’s house in flames. At that point, she called 911 and saw Singletary in his backyard. Mares said that local EMTs provided Singletary medical attention on the scene and discovered that he had been unharmed in the blaze.

Firefighters had some water pressure issues and truck problems upon their arrival to the scene, according to Mares.

“The trucks’ pumps were frozen and the water hydrants didn’t have enough pressure,” Mares said. “So, they took the trucks back to the department ... they ran the hoses from other fire hydrants near the house.” The hydrants were approximately a block away from the burning home.

A telephone call to the fire chief’s office was referred to Las Vegas City Manager Tim Dodge, who said Thursday morning that it’s too early to come to come to any conclusions.

“Until the investigation is complete, we don’t know what the total cause was,” he said.

Utility workers from the city worked and dug up ground in the area most of Wednesday. Natural gas was restored to area residents around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Singletary walked away with just a shirt, pants and socks that he had on upon his discovery of his house being engulfed in flames. In the meantime, he is staying with Mares and his family. Mares said the family is looking at the possibility of obtaining an attorney but are currently making sure Singletary is fine. Singletary’s wife passed away this past summer.