Teen dies in gas blasts that destroy homes north of Boston

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Massachusetts State Police have confirmed officials are responding to 70 house fires, explosions or reports of gas odors - possibly caused by gas leaks - around the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Thursday evening.

Lawrence resident Leonel Rondon, 18, was killed in his auto when his home exploded and the chimney fell onto his vehicle, WCVB reports. Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said residents in the southern part of his city had been asked to leave their homes whether or not they were Columbia Gas customers, due to planned power cuts.

Thousands of residents were forced to flee their homes as crews scrambled to douse the flames and shut off gas and electric lines to prevent any further damage.

Earlier Thursday before the fires broke out, the utility company that services the area announced it would be upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhoods across the state. "It just went up, it sounded like we were being bombed", she said with her son Ryan outside the North Andover middle school where residents were evacuated.

Neighborhoods were evacuated in northern Massachusetts Thursday following a series of explosions and fires apparently caused by a faulty gas line. There were 38 fires in Andover alone and at the peak of the incident, 18 fires were burning at the same time.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency blamed over-pressurized gas lines for starting the fires, but officials on the scene are still investigating.

Reached by phone, some local officials described scenes of panic as residents rushed to evacuate, many wondering if their homes would be next to erupt in flames.

Lawrence City Councilor Marc LaPlante said, "The best I can make of this at this point is it is gas-related".

"Good thing I wasn't home or I wouldn't be talking about it", she said outside an elementary school in Lawrence that the Red Cross had converted into a shelter for about 170 people.

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"My first thought was this is a gas explosion".

The officials said that they are investigating and ease out the pressure on the gas pipes.

It is not clear whether maintenance work was happening at the time of the blasts.

Gas explosions have claimed lives and destroyed property around the USA in recent years.

The state police said gas lines are now being depressurized by the company but warned that may take some time. The town of 35,000 residents is about 26 miles (40 kilometers) north of Boston near the New Hampshire border.

"Incidents are across a wide swath of dozens of blocks across Lawrence and North Andover", state police said via Twitter.

Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon told USA Today there are so many fires, "you can't even see the sky".

Warren and Seaman said the last time they responded to MA for a major blaze was the Malden Mills factory fire in Lawrence in 1995.

- A 2011 natural gas explosion killed five people in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that state's largest gas utility was fined by regulators who called the company's safety record "downright alarming".

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