By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
Photo by Ian Kushnir. Firefighters battle a natural gas main fire caused by a car crashing into a 500-pound main about 2:30 a.m. July 2 near the intersection of Greenfield and Allen roads in Melvindale.
MELVINDALE – Praise for police and firefighters highlighted the July 6 City Council meeting following a gas main fire caused by a car crash early July 2 at Greenfield and Allen roads.
A second, less intense fire that damaged a nearby business the night of July 3 is thought to have been caused by fireworks, and is still under investigation.
IThe gas main explosion and fire began about 2:30 a.m. when 24-year-old Andrew Gregoire, a Melvindale resident who lives a few blocks from the crash scene, was southbound on Greenfield and turned left instead of right at the intersection of Allen Road. He crashed through a fence and into the 500-pound gas main line valve.
Alcohol is believed to be a factor in the crash.
A friend following him in another vehicle pulled Gregoire from his car. Media reports indicate that Gregoire is at Detroit Receiving Hospital in serious but stable condition.
More than 1,500 residents were evacuated from the area of the intensely hot blaze, which reduced the Greenfield and Allen Road intersection to ash and reportedly will take several weeks to repair.
Residents at the City Council meeting expressed the need for a more effective warning system and automatic alerts to notify people if future evacuations are needed, with the Marathon Oil refinery in close proximity in addition to the DTE Energy natural gas pipeline.
Mayor Stacy Striz acknowledged the importance of a warning alert system, especially in the event of a terrorist attack.
“It think it is a wonderful recommendation,” Striz said. “To be honest, I don't know the answer right now, but we could definitely look into it and find out.”
She said city sirens have different tones, but she is not sure how it would work for an evacuation, especially a partial evacuation.
Striz said Deputy Fire Chief Steven Densmore told her that air monitoring was done right away by the Environmental Protection Agency, and no problems were detected.
She said the Marathon refinery went into an emergency response mode and did a partial shutdown because they did not know if the other natural gas line was compromised.
“It was a lot of uncertainty at that moment,” Striz said, “because at that moment if it had went, it would have been worse.”
A resident asked if the Marathon refinery power loss July 2 during the fire — which was a Designated Environmental Incident because Marathon had to flare off toxins — were detected in the air sampling.
They also asked if the stationary air monitoring stations at Mark Twain Elementary School, 12800 Visger, in Detroit and Salina Elementary School, 2700 Ferney, in Dearborn would be checked to see any toxins were detected from the DEI.
Striz said city officials would find out if readings were available from the school air monitoring sites.
Dearborn Fire Capt. Glenn Owens said a hazardous materials team was on site early on.
“Along with the hazmat team they have all sorts of air monitoring,” Owens said. “I know with Chief Densmore's position, he's really close with the Downriver Hazmat Team, so he was getting constant updates on the air quality as well.”
Striz said the 500-pound natural gas pipeline runs to Ypsilanti, but she is not sure where it runs through the city, or if it runs through the Marathon refinery. DTE turned the line off, but then the remaining gas in the line had to bleed off.
Striz said the DTE director has called her daily with updates, and said the company has people from their Big Rapids facility to work on the repairs and rerouting the location of some of the natural gas lines.
“Our building inspector, our department is working with (DTE) to see what sort of safety measures that are in,” Striz said. “We talked about a rail to be there to guard it, but I also heard that the car, the trajectory of how it was kind of airborne at that point.”
Striz said the building department has made it clear that the city wants to be updated with DTE's plans to make the natural gas pipeline less vulnerable.
“We need to be in the loop on everything,” Striz said. “We want to see every plan. We want to see all the drawings, all of the permits being pulled so that we have a plan and know where everything is if, God forbid, something like this occurs again.”
Striz said the city wants to see the Greenfield and Allen Road intersection become safer, with more safeguards in place to protect the DTE natural gas lines.
She said they need to reach out to Wayne County as well, because Greenfield is a county road.
Striz said she knows how scary the situation was for residents.
“My whole bedroom was pink and it sounded like I was inside an airplane,” she said. “I thought, 'Am I having a dream?' and trying to wake myself up.”
She said the city needs to come up with a better emergency response notification system.
The city currently has Nixle, a community information service built for secure and reliable communications from municipalities to residents in real time through text messaging to cell phones and email alerts. For more information, go to nixle.com. It is, however, under-used in the city at present.
Police Lt. John Allen said the department did put updates on its Facebook page.
“It was a little delayed, because we were busy,” Allen said. “But the chief and I usually update on Facebook as soon as we can.”
“Educating people is huge,” Striz said. “Maybe getting information on how to register for that, and talking about the events and what we need to do moving forward.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)