- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Minnesota excavation company that city authorities blame for causing a downtown Omaha fire says the Metropolitan Utilities District should be held responsible for the natural gas explosion.

The North Central Service of Bemidji, Minnesota, blames the utility in its response to a lawsuit over the Jan. 9 fire in the Old Market area in front of M’s Pub, The Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/29qaMe9 ) reports. The fire damaged or destroyed the building’s wall, ceilings and several floors. The roof also collapsed.

City officials and safety regulators have said North Central’s workers struck a natural gas line in front of M’s Pub before the fire.

Gas leaked into the basement of the building and exploded. The building, which housed a restaurant and apartments, was evacuated.

An M’s Pub employee was taken to a hospital with cuts and a firefighter was treated after slipping on ice. Omaha Firefighters said at the time that freezing temperatures challenged crews as they battled the fire.

MUD says North Central failed to follow routine procedures to locate underground gas lines before beginning to drill.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has said that North Central did not use safe and acceptable means to find underground utilities in the area. OSHA proposed a fine of $4,900.

The Omaha Fire Department determined the fire was accidental.

The city billed North Central nearly $104,000 for the costs of fighting the fire. North Central was sent a letter saying the reimbursement is being sought under an ordinance that lets the city recover expenses incurred during a “hazardous material emergency.”

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

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