SOUTH WEBER, Davis County Questar officials said Sunday the natural gas pipeline break and resulting destruction of a home here Saturday night was an "extremely rare" event.
"It hardly ever happens," company spokesman Steve Chapman said of the circumstances that led to the explosion and fire that destroyed Luana Fowers' house.
Fortunately, Fowers was out of the home at the time, attending the 75th birthday party thrown for her by her children in Mountain Green. And her dog, Shadow, was found by a neighbor and her 4-year-old daughter about 9 a.m. Sunday when they took their own dog outside.
Shadow's hair was slightly burned and the poodle was cold and hungry, but the Markham family took good care of the dog for an hour until Davis County sheriff's deputies arrived to reunite the dog with Fowers.
A total of 210 homes in several South Weber subdivisions were evacuated after the explosion, which occurred about 6:20 p.m. Questar crews were able to shut off the leak by 8:45 p.m., and the last of the 210 evacuated families were allowed back in their homes around 1 a.m. Sunday, company and sheriff's officials said. And only one neighboring house experienced a temporary disconnection of natural gas service.
Chapman said "there is no obvious cause that has been determined" as to why a 14-inch main pipeline apparently burst. The pipeline is buried about 5 feet beneath the surface of 7600 South, and the rupture occurred in front of Fowers' home at 1745 E. 7600 South, between 30 and 50 feet from her house.
Chapman speculated leaking gas may have traveled through the soil or a sewer line and into Fowers' home, and that an existing ignition source such as a pilot light on a furnace or water heater may have set off the explosion.
"Obviously, somehow, the gas migrated into her home," Chapman said. "The (Questar) people I've talked to, nobody ever recalls this kind of a break in a high-pressure line. We have gas leaks, but even they are infrequent and generally don't result in property damage."
Chapman said Questar is conducting its own investigation into the line break and an independent investigation also is under way by the Utah Office of Pipeline Safety. Chapman said he did not know whether the loss of Fowers' home was covered by homeowners insurance or whether Questar would have any involvement in helping Fowers' rebuild or relocate.
"If there is any liability, it will have to be established," he said. "We're a stand-up company. If it comes out, obviously, that we have some liability, then we'll step up to the plate, but it's too premature at this point to speculate."
Fowers told the Deseret Morning News on Saturday she felt "lucky to be alive." If not for the birthday party, "I would have been in my house," she said.
Ironically, Fowers' son is a Questar employee and was on call Saturday night. He was the first Questar crew member to arrive on the scene, having been called away from his mother's party, Chapman said.
Perhaps Fowers' biggest celebration occurred Sunday morning when she was reunited with Shadow, her 8-year-old poodle. The dog was inside a kennel in Fowers' kitchen when the explosion occurred. The dog apparently was thrown 100 feet by the blast. He then spent the night out in the cold before 4-year-old Madesyn Markham and her mother discovered the dog in their back yard Sunday morning.
Once they brought the dog inside, "it even started eating, which we were amazed," said Madesyn's mother, who declined to give her name.
Jody Stark, who lives next door to Fowers but about 75 yards away, said it was her brother Brad Stark, who lives across the street, who first smelled the gas and discovered the sinkhole in the road with gas escaping from it. He had barely walked to his parents' house, where his sister also lives, when Fowers' house exploded.
"He turned around and saw it was completely in flames," Jody Stark said. "He said he thought about walking up and knocking on her door (before the explosion), and he was like, 'I don't know why I didn't,' but he didn't.
"It was a really loud boom. We heard it and it made our whole house shake."
The Starks quickly threw on their coats, grabbed pictures and other precious belongings and fled their home in a matter of minutes, Jody Stark said.
"We were outside all night long" waiting to be allowed back in, she said.
When the full evacuation was ordered, some families went to stay with relatives. Others went to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-say Saints' South Weber 2nd Second Ward building, which was opened to anyone seeking shelter. There were about 70 people in the church's gymnasium by 9 p.m.
"It definitely makes me think about what's important" in life, Jody Stark said.
Mike Miller, who lives about a quarter mile away on Erica Way, came home just after the explosion and could see flames above the pine trees. He said his family was evacuated, but was allowed to return to their home by 10:30 p.m.
"The wind was blowing here pretty good so most of the concern was downwind from us," he said.
Miller said he felt just as secure in his home Sunday as he did before the explosion Saturday, but added, "Anything's possible. Nothing's freak."
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