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Officials: Worker Punctured Gas Line, Causing Strip Club Explosion

SPRINGFIELD (CBS) — Authorities in western Massachusetts announced on Saturday that human error was to blame for a blast that leveled a strip club, damaged 42 buildings, and injured 21 people in Springfield's entertainment district.

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said a gas company worker responding to reports of a gas leak punctured a pipe that eventually led to a massive explosion.

"We have determined that human error as opposed to a fault in the gas infrastructure is what the cause of the explosion was,"  a statement from the State Fire Marshal's office said.

Officials said on Sunday that a Columbia Gas employee arrived Friday evening to investigate the report for an odor of gas. It is unclear what prompted that initial call.

Upon arrival, the gas company employee reported smelling gas, but his meter did not register any gas inside the building.

He began using a metal probe to make holes in the ground in order to measure for leaking gas.

"His examination appears to have been an appropriate distance from where older markings on the sidewalk indicated where the gas line was. However, the markings were incorrect and his metal probe inadvertently punctured the high-pressure gas line right at the foundation of the building," a statement from the State Fire Marshal's office said.

Firefighters display the pipe that was punctured by a gas worker. (Photo from WSHM)

It took crews 20 to 30 minutes to shut off the line. During that time, the area was evacuated.

A large amount of natural gas seeped into the building that eventually exploded. Officials say there were a number of possible ignition sources inside the building, and that they likely will not be able to pinpoint which one actually sparked the explosion.

However, they stress that the ignition source matters much less to the investigation than the source of the fuel.

Authorities on Sunday did not name the worker who caused the blast.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said Columbia Gas has been extremely cooperative in the investigation.

Columbia Gas planned a news conference for 4 p.m. to respond to the developments.

Examination of the scene was expected to wrap up Sunday. From there, the investigation will be turned over to the Department of Public Utilities.

Friday's afternoon's explosion flattened a strip club and heavily damaged a day care center shortly after the surrounding area had been evacuated.

Most of the injured were part of a group of gas workers, firefighters and police officers who ducked for cover behind a utility truck just before the blast.

The explosion blew out windows and scattered debris over several blocks.

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