LEBANON — Fire broke out in an unoccupied house early Tuesday morning, causing heavy damage and prompting evacuation of several nearby homes until a leaking gas line could be shut off.

No one was injured. The Lebanon Fire District has not yet determined the cause of the second-alarm blaze.

Lebanon firefighters responding to the call at 3:53 a.m. found heavy flames coming from the back of the single-story, 468-square-foot home at 543 W. Ash St., Division Chief Jason Bolen said.

Once the firefighters got to the back of the house, however, they saw the gas meter and heard the sound coming from the line.

"It's a high-pressure kind of hissing that kind of comes from that, like a small jet engine," Bolen said. 

When lit, a gas line is fairly stable because the gas coming out of the line is being consumed by the fire, he said. "It's fairly stable while it's burning."

It's when the fire goes out that things can become dangerous, because the gas pools and collects. If it finds another source of combustion, it can explode. 

So as soon as firefighters had much of the blaze under control, they began evacuating homes within 300 feet of the burning residence to keep them clear of the gas, Bolen said. "It was a fire that turned into a hazmat."

Bolen estimated firefighters went to more than a dozen homes. Not all the homes were occupied, and he wasn't sure of the number of people turned out.

Residents gathered at the intersection of Fifth and Ash streets to wait for shelter in city Dial-A-Bus vehicles. Bolen said he didn't know whether any buses actually got to the scene before residents were allowed to go home, however, because gas company crews responded immediately and were able to hand-dig out the line in the curb space of the street and clamp it shut.

With the gas lines secure, firefighters were able to mop up the rest of the flames and check out any empty spaces in the home to take care of hot spots, Bolen said. Work wrapped up between 7:30 and 8 a.m.

The only damage not confined to the initial structure was a window in the house next door to the west that broke from the radiant heat. That house also was unoccupied, Bolen said.

The initial fire house is owned and furnished. Bolen said the owners were contacted. Insurance information was not immediately known.

Albany firefighters also responded to the scene and Brownsville, Scio and Sweet Home helped cover the rest of Lebanon during the blaze.

The fire remains under investigation. Bolen said anyone with information is encouraged to contact him at the district office, 541-451-1901.

This is the second fire in an unoccupied Lebanon home in less than a week. Last Thursday, the Lebanon Fire Department responded to a house fire in the 100 block of Wheeler Street. The origin of that fire remains undetermined.

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