We are saddened to learn of the death of a young man as a result of these events. "Our thoughts are with everyone affected by today's incident". We are focused on providing as much support as possible to our customers, residents and communities. Grateful to all our first responders working to help.
Fire crews then spent hours going from property to property tackling blazes, as gas technicians rushed to shut off gas supplies and assist in safety checks.
Early in the evening, Columbia Gas customers were urged to turn off the gas service to their homes.
Some 70 fires, explosions or investigations of gas odour had been reported, Massachusetts State Police said. City Councilor Marc Laplante said authorities were shutting off electric power and urging residents in the Colonial Heights neighborhood to head to Parthum elementary and middle schools.
Additional reporting for this story provided by Newsy affiliate CNN.
"There could still be a gas leak in your home", he said.
Firefighters battle a large structure fire in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Photos posted on social media show raging fires and thick plumes of black smoke billowing from the buildings.
Preliminary numbers estimate that between 60 and 100 homes in the Merrimack Valley caught fire in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Methuen Police Chief Joseph Soloman said.
"You can't even see the sky", Solomon said.
East Kingston Fire Chief Ed Warren joined his crew on their way to a station in North Andover where they would be assigned.
Flanked by community leaders from Lawrence, Andover and North Andover Thursday night, Baker vowed, "we'll work with the federal government and others to investigate how this occurred and hold the appropriate parties responsible for their actions".
Officials in Andover, a town of 35,000 residents had advised all residents and businesses to evacuate and to shut off their gas, if they know how to safely. Gas pipelines are within the agency's jurisdiction.
State police put the tally of fires and explosions at 39 and said the number was expected to grow.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said it would likely take investigators some time to examine the pipeline's design, maintenance and upgrades.
Gov. Charlie Baker says 10 other people were injured Thursday in a series of fires and explosions that authorities blame on over-pressurized natural gas lines.
"Residents in the affected towns of Lawrence/North Andover/Andover who have gas service from Columbia Gas should evacuate their homes immediately if they have not already done so", state police tweeted.
Tactical flight officer and Trooper Eric Fairchild was monitoring the aircraft's forward looking infrared camera "when he observed an anomaly under the pavement at the intersection of Broadway and Andover St".
Chief Keefe notes that police resources from throughout Massachusetts have responded to Andover, including the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) Rapid Response Team, the NEMLEC Motor Unit, and the Massachusetts State Police.
The helicopter crew "likely prevented another catastrophic event", State Police said.
The incident forced National Grid to cut power to all three communities, leaving an estimated 18,000 people in the dark.