The State Fire Marshal thinks that someone may have dumped an unknown ignitable substance into the Laurens sewer system - or at least that seems to be the only way to explain a bizarre series of events Tuesday that included a major house fire, a possible explosion and other problems in a small area of a couple blocks.
Laurens Fire Department was called out early Tuesday evening to a possible explosion in a basement at 514 Allen Street, the Terry and Jenci Moore home. Firefighters found that a drain in the basement was burnt. A neighbor at 509 Allen had also smelled something strange in his basement. Firefighters vented this house.
Firefighters also checked a home at 305 Sadie Street. The drain in the basement had released water and black material into the basement.
Firefighters and city workers dumped water into the sewers to flush the system. While en route back to the fire station, firefighters were then alerted by a citizen that a house on Bissell Street was on fire.
All of these houses are located within a two to three-block area.
Firefighters responded to the Theresa Shimon residence located at 532 Bissell. Firefighters found smoke coming from the house and a fire in the lower level. The fire was extinguished with no injuries, and the house suffered fire and smoke damage in excess of $30,000 damage. The Iowa State Fire Marshal was called in to investigate the strange occurrences.
An investigation was conducted by the Fire Marshal and the Laurens Fire Department. Assistance in the investigation was provided by Alliant Energy, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Several homes in the area as well as yards, manholes, sewers and the sewage treatment plant were checked out. The Pocahontas County Sheriff and the Laurens Police Department and City Waste Department assisted with this task as well.
At this time the cause of these fires and problems have been ruled accidental by the State Fire Marshal. Some type of ignitable product was in the sewer at the time of these incidents. At this time methane gas and natural gas have been ruled out. It is the opinion of the State Fire Marshal that something was possibly dumped into the sewer by someone and this product made it into the above residences. This product vapor was ignited by a pilot light on a water heater in the basement of the Shimon and Moore residences. It is unknown who may have dumped a product in the sewer.
More recent checks showed no flammable vapor readings in the sewers or homes in the area. The Pocahontas County Sheriff, Laurens Police, and the State Fire Marshal are still investigating, but officials admit that they may never know exactly what substance was in the sewer at the time of these problems.