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Underground fire creates Lower Burrell hot line

| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2002

LOWER BURRELL: An underground fire was burning Wednesday near a leaking natural gas line along Lowe Road in the Braeburn section of the city that potentially could cut phone service to about 400 residents.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Office of Surface Mines said the fire posed little danger, however, and could be easily dealt with.

"This is something very minor," said Dean Baker, DEP Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation spokesman.

Utility authorities said Wednesday afternoon that the fire posed no immediate threat to the natural gas line and was affecting phone service to fewer than 20 residents.

No one was reported injured by the fire, which Baker described as burning coals.

There are coal mines in the area, according to Randy Shank, Lower Burrell No. 2 Fire Department chief, who suspected earlier Wednesday that the problem was a mine fire.

But federal mine officials said the source of the underground fire has not been determined.

It was unclear how deep the fire is, how it started and when it started. Officials said the fire could have been burning for a year.

"You can see smoke and steam coming from (a) pipe, but how wide or how deep the fire is, we don't know," Shank said.

To control the burning, the coals will be smothered with clay and possibly water, officials said.

Shank said Verizon discovered the fire early Wednesday following reports of phone service problems. Smoke was coming from a pipe near one of the company's lines, he said.

Jeff Jones, a Verizon manager, said the company first noticed problems in the area earlier in the week. "This could have been going on for a while," he said.

The fire apparently melted phone lines, Jones said. While as many as 400 residents could be affected, fewer than 20 were having problems Wednesday afternoon.

"We're just trying to get away

from the problem," Jones said. Verizon crews were rerouting the buried lines onto utility poles to avoid further problems, he said.

Residents should not experience phone problems after 7 p.m. today, Jones said.

Shank advised residents who did not have phone service to use cell phones for emergency calls or drive to the closest fire hall or police station for help.

Firefighters said they left fliers, informing local residents of the problem.

Residents in the Braeburn and Braeburn Heights section of the city and residents in parts of Allegheny Township were affected, Shank said.

Elmore Lockley, spokesman for Dominion Peoples, the company that owns the gas line, said the line would be shut down but that customers would not be affected.

"The most immediate impact of this is that it affects phone service - the ability to contact someone in the event of an emergency," Shank said.

Michael Aubele can be reached at maubele@tribweb.com. Staff photographer Jeff Swensen contributed to this report.

Road closed

Lowe Road, which runs along the Allegheny River in Lower Burrell, was closed Wednesday because of an underground fire behind Braeburn Beach.

PennDOT said the road will remain closed indefinitely, "until mine safety crews can evaluate the concern."

In addition, local residents could experience phone problems because of the fire.

In the event of an emergency, residents should use a cell phone or drive to the nearest fire hall or police station.

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