FREMONT — A 60-foot wall of flame erupted Friday morning from a ruptured natural gas pipeline along a rural road northwest of Fremont.
An explosion shook houses and could be heard miles away. The towering blaze that followed kept burning for much of the day, fueled by Northern Natural Gas' 16-inch pipeline.
“It sounded like a jet,” said Wayne Francis, who lives about 2 1/2 miles away.
After the blast, he drove to the intersection closest to the fire, Dodge County Roads 20 and O, and got out of his pickup.
"I could feel the heat," he said. "The fire was starting to burn in the corn stubble on the north side of the road. There was nothing else close that looked like it was going to burn.”
Four nearby homes were evacuated, but nothing was damaged and no one was injured, officials said.
As many as two additional explosions followed the first one, said Jerry Dillenburg, chief of the volunteer fire department in nearby Nickerson.
“I know for sure there was another explosion once we got out here, but it was in the same area. What caused it, I don’t know. It wasn’t big like the original one,” he said.
Workers from Omaha-based Northern Natural Gas closed off the section of pipe involved, but the remaining gas continued to burn into the afternoon. The company's nearby pipelines kept gas flowing to the Fremont and Hooper areas.
Spokesman Mike Loeffler said it could take weeks to determine what caused the explosion.
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“They won’t know for sure until they can get in there and dig around and get the pipeline pulled up,” Dillenburg said.
Northern Natural Gas operates 14,900 miles of pipe in several states, stretching from southwest Texas to the Great Lakes region, according to its website. Its lines cut across much of eastern Nebraska.
Loeffler said he didn't know when the line was installed.
Throughout the day Friday, firefighters and law enforcement held a steady stream of onlookers at bay, keeping them from getting too close in case of more fire.
But plenty of folks could see it all from home.
At about 8:30 a.m., Keith and Marcia Johnson were in bed in their home down the road when they heard the boom.
“The house just shook,” Marcia Johnson said later Friday morning. “We looked out of our window and there was a huge ball of fire. We grabbed our clothes and ran out because our house is on the natural gas line. Keith doesn’t even have his shoes."
Erin Teut was getting ready for work when she saw the explosion from about 2 miles away.
"I just happened to be standing there looking out the window and I saw the explosion and felt it,” she said. “You just heard this roaring, it sounded like a jet had crashed.
“You see this big massive explosion, and you can just feel the pressure in the air when it happened. ... We were far enough away, but from that far the sound was absolutely frightening."