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Underground gas fire under control after snarling morning traffic in Old City [photos]

A construction crew struck a gas line in Old City Thursday, sparking an underground fire that forced police to close streets and evacuate residents.

Officials say the privately-hired crew was digging a trench to lay electrical lines in the 300 block of Race Street when it accidentally struck a one-inch service line, causing an underground fire.

Fire officials initially reported the fire was caused by a gas leak in an eight-inch pipe. Later, a spokesperson for PGW said that in fact, there was no leaking gas, as the pipe that was struck was out of service, but what exactly was burning was unclear. The underground fire was quickly brought under control, with no injuries or property damage reported.

No word yet on whether the construction crew was negligent or just unlucky, said fire department spokesperson Eric Fleming.

“I’m pretty sure the city will be looking to see if proper procedures were followed by the construction company,” he said. But at first glance, he added, it looks like “somebody messed up.”

The fire was still burning slowly as of mid-morning, but Fleming said it was under control and that there was “no immediate risk for an explosion.”

About 25 people were temporarily evacuated from surrounding buildings, he said.

As to when the surrounding streets will reopen, Fleming said he could “only guess.”

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