- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - An investigative report from the State Fire Marshal’s Office says Metropolitan Utilities District workers didn’t mark the natural gas line that was breached and sparked a massive fire that destroyed a building in downtown Omaha.

The report is the basis of a June 23 letter notifying the district that the Marshal’s Office is preparing to conclude that the utility violated state pipeline-safety regulations, the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/2biVdWB ) reported.

The report says that the underground excavators who hit the pipe while drilling in the area couldn’t have known of its existence without the markings of nearby gas lines.

The district has previously said that it properly marked the lines.

The “notice of probable violation” letter is marked “draft.” It’s the first government-sponsored analysis to publicly suggest fault for the explosion. The incident didn’t cause any deaths or serious injuries but it burned out several businesses and displaced condo owners.

The Fire Marshal’s Office has denied the newspaper’s multiple requests to see the report on the fire in the M’s Pub building.

Both the district and the Marshal’s Office say the investigation is continuing.

“No final determinations have been made,” said Raymond Nance, a Fire Marshal’s Office spokesman.

But the letter, signed by two of the office’s officials, and accompanying investigative reports are already being used in a lawsuit related to the fire.

The documents were included in a filing Wednesday in Douglas County District Court by Unite Private Networks, one of the contractors that was part of the fiber-optic installation that led to the fire.

Property owners in the neighborhood sued Unite Private and two additional companies this year, saying they were at fault for the Jan. 9 fire.

Unite Private’s filing says the fire marshal’s findings lean heavily upon making a final determination of who was to blame.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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