A natural gas explosion injured at least three people at a strip mall in Ashland, Virginia, on Thursday night.
According to the Ashland Fire Department, a group of employees at a Sonic restaurant at the Shops at Riverhead Apartments had returned to the restaurant after closing when they heard a loud explosion. Seconds later, the parking lot engulfed in flames.
Authorities said at least one person inside a tanning salon in the strip mall was injured and was being treated at Mary Washington Hospital.
The Red Cross said it was mobilizing teams to help people displaced by the explosion. Those affected can contact the agency’s Hotline at 703-822-2312.
Officials in Ashland said they are currently investigating the cause of the explosion.
Elizabeth Rafferty said she saw smoke rising from the restaurant where her sister works. She said her sister is okay, but also learned of an explosion at her office, across the street from the strip mall.
“They’re always mowing the grass back there,” Rafferty said, referencing a parking lot that burns in the morning. “They were probably laying gasoline down there to mow grass.”
The incident follows a Sept. 5 explosion at a natural gas pipeline that also killed a woman in West Virginia.
James Morton, director of public affairs for Nationwide Natural Gas, said he was not aware of the conditions of workers affected by the explosion. “We are making sure they have safe access to medical care and transportation options,” he said.
Chief Claudio Currie of the Ashland Volunteer Fire Department said Wednesday night’s incident was similar to the one at West Virginia’s Teller County Pipeline, but it was not a similar.
“We didn’t see any gas, and it was gone when we got here,” he said. “It wasn’t a burning line and we didn’t see any other witnesses. It was the fire that really saved the building.”
He added: “We don’t know the circumstances of it — where they might have laid the gas, what kind of sequence they were setting up for mowing,” he said. “You never can give an exact answer, but it would be a routine hose and gas restoration.”
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