Authorities urge homeowners to be alert for natural gas odor

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

In the wake of seven gas line tampering incidents, Fire Marshal Vance Swisher is urging residents to be aware of the smell of natural gas in their homes.

He also urges residents who see unusual activity at new-home construction sites to call police.

People may remain anonymous by calling the Safe City tip line at 328-6888. People can also call the Arson hot line at 1-800-723-2020.

Vandals are targeting houses under construction, tampering with natural gas line, allowing gas to build up in the houses and raising fears of explosion.


There have been five incidents in northwest and northeast Rochester this week, Swisher said. Two other cases were reported last year and in December 2006. No explosions have occurred.

Swisher said he thinks there have been other, unreported incidents. He said builders often just correct the problem and don’t report it unless they see some sort of pattern.

During the course of the investigation this week, Swisher said, he has learned of a similar incident at a property in Oronoco last year and one in southwest Rochester in December 2006.

In all cases, vandals tampered with the gas line going into the house, not the meter, allowing gas to build up, Swisher said. He said that could lead to fire or an explosion if enough gas accumulates.

"All it takes is an ignition source, like a hot water heater cycling on and off," to cause an explosion, he said.

The houses affected are being built by five different contractors.

Rochester police have assigned an investigator to work with the fire department.

Rochester Area Builders Association alerted its members to the problem by e-mail this morning.


Rory Lenton, local spokesman for natural gas company Minnesota Energy Resources Corp., said crews have responded to a couple of incidents at the request of the Rochester Fire Department.

The gas company was not actively involved in the investigation this morning. The damage so far has not involved any defects in the gas supply system.

However, the company does respond to suspected gas leaks at no cost, he said.

Lenton said people should act quickly if they smell natural gas.

"If they think they smell natural gas, … they should get everybody out," he said. "Don’t turn on or off any electrical switches, and that includes the phone."

Leave and call 911 from a nearby building or safe distance, Lenton said.

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