Witnesses say there was an explosion followed by hours of flames. A gas leak erupted into a fire in Dell Rapids Tuesday that continued to burn for more than five hours.
The gas leak ignited shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday morning just behind Dell Rapids Saint Mary's School. Emergency officials say a private contractor hit a gas line while they were boring underground. The fire destroyed a broken down vehicle nearby and burned a few trees but fortunately no one was hurt.
"I thought it was a gunshot at first and then I come out and looked down the road and saw the flames and I immediately knew it wasn't a gunshot," witness Chris Sward said.
"It was so bad when it first started it was going clear across the street so it was on both sides of the street," witness Susie Radigan said as she described what she saw.
Radigan was just a few doors away when she heard the explosion.
"I said, 'Oh my goodness we need to call 911 there's a huge fire.' We saw two men running down the street. One of them was in the vehicle and got out and the other one I think was helping him get out," Radigan said.
Those men were running from a broken down vehicle that was in the wrong place at the same time a construction crew was boring underground near the intersection of 9th Street and State Avenue in Dell Rapids. The crew hit a gas line causing a leak. The vehicle was broken down. Authorities say something ignited the gas that fueled the fire.
"Before the fire department got here the trees were even on fire so they did a good job of containing it," Radigan said.
Containing it is all emergency crews could do. Officials simply doused the entire area with water and let the gas leak burn until MidAmerican Energy crews could dig under the street and clamp down the line. There were no shut off valves because the leak was on a main supply line.
Crews shut down the line around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.
"We're better off having the gas being ignited so we know where it's at. We can keep it contained," Dell Rapids Fire Chief Mike Steen said.
Even though the flames looked threatening Radigan is thankful no one was hurt.
“It was a good thing somebody tried to get it contained but it was pretty bad and I'm just glad the people are okay and safe," Radigan said.
City officials say a private contractor was doing the work when the line was hit.