UPDATE: An investigation found that the tracer wire was laying approximately 1 to 2 inches below the pipe. Lightning had also damaged the tracer wire. Officials said Wednesday that it appears the tracer wire carried the electric current that ultimately ignited the gas coming from the hole in the plastic pipe.
YORK COUNTY -- Lightning apparently hit an underground gas line, sparking fire in a York Co. neighborhood and forcing people to leave their homes for several hours.
It happened around 9:00 p.m. Sunday on Songbird Trail. Flames could be seen in the Glen Laurel subdivision off Route 17 (George Washington Memorial Highway.)
Captain Paul Long with York County Department of Fire and Life Safety told 13News Now 10 homes were evacuated as a precaution.
As of 1:00 a.m. Monday, Va. Natural Gas crews had shut off the gas supply and put out the fire. All residents were then allowed back in their homes, but five homes were without gas service, officials said.
Now, the task turns to figuring out what carried the super-charged electricity from the lightning strike underground to the two-inch plastic pipe carrying natural gas.
Massoud Tahamtani, director of the Division of Utility and Railway Safety, says it was most likely a metal tracer wire that carried the spark from the tree to the pipe.
The tracer wire is installed with the pipe as a way for surveyors to find the pipeline from above ground. Tahamtani says federal guidelines caution against installing the tracer wire too close to the pipe.
Those guidelines came after a rash of incidents similar to the York County fire happened around the country.
"With the pressure inside, it could cause a blowout, if you will, and then catch on fire,' Tahamtani says. "That's what appears to have happened here."
Tahamtani says his office is working to confirm the tracer wire as the culprit in igniting the fire. If that is confirmed, the agency will then determine when the pipeline was installed.
If the pipeline was installed after the federal advisory was issued, Tahamtani says, Virginia Natural Gas--who owns the pipeline--could be penalized.