- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

A ruptured gas main that sparked a fire snarled traffic in Northwest late yesterday morning and led to the temporary closure and evacuation of the George Washington University Hospital emergency room.

A gas line serving an old hospital building was apparently ruptured around 10:30 a.m., as crews demolished the building. The site is immediately across the street from the new hospital, which opened in August 2002.

“We suspect a car that stopped in the middle of the street — hit a pothole or something — was probably the source of ignition,” said Chief Adrian Thompson of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. The driver of the vehicle staggered into the hospital emergency room, alerting personnel that the surface of the street outside was ablaze.

“That person had apparently minor injuries and was transported to another hospital,” Chief Thompson said. No one else was hurt. The car was gutted.

“Patient care for those critical patients remained intact during the whole process,” said James E. Richardson, GWU Hospital’s chief operating officer. There were about 230 people undergoing inpatient treatment when the incident occurred.

Hospital staff ordered nonessential personnel and visitors out of the complex. Patients from intensive care were moved to an area of the hospital farthest from the fire. However, operations underway at the time continued, including a patient having open heart surgery.

“A page operator got on the public address system saying everybody out of the hospital now,” said Dr. Eric R. Wollins, an internal medicine specialist who was making rounds on the hospital’s fourth floor when the incident occurred.

“The stairwells were completely full with medical personnel, family members and others,” he said.

Construction workers said they heard the sirens of emergency vehicles approaching the area even before the flash and resulting roar from the explosion occurred.

“The fires were tracking across the roadway, the whole area was engulfed in flames,” said Paul Stabler, 43, an irrigation contractor from Gaithersburg.

Natural gas fumes were detected in several buildings in the area, including the underground Foggy Bottom Metro station, which serves the Orange and Blue lines.

“We ran trains through but prohibited patrons from entering or exiting the station,” said Capt. Timothy Gronau, district commander of the Metro Transit Police Department. Full service at that facility was restored before 1 p.m.

“The damaged line will be capped, since it is no longer in service,” said Washington Gas spokesman Tim Sargeant. “We did not lose service to the rest of the Georgetown area.”

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