UPDATE 7:13 a.m. 3/20/2013
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- The evacuation area, put in place due to an exposed natural gas line, has shrunk once again.
Now, all those who live within the block of 6th to 8th streets and Orchard to Walnut avenues will be allowed to return home.
However, all houses facing 7th Street from Elm to Orchard avenues are still under evacuation until repairs are made to the transmission line.
Xcel crews are going through homes to make sure they are safe and re-ignite pilot lights.
UPDATE 7:13 a.m. 3/20/2013
Tope Elementary School is closed Wednesday as crews work to contain a gas leak the caused an explosion Tuesday afternoon.
Tope is just a couple of blocks from 1752 7th Street, where the explosion leveled one house and burned down another. All students were evacuated from the school around 1 p.m. when officials became worried that the gas leak would spread and cause explosions elsewhere.
Grand Junction High School, which was evacuated Tuesday as well, will be opened as scheduled, with TCAP testing starting at 7:25 a.m. for 9th and 10th grade students.
About 75 homes remained under evacuation for the night, and roughly a dozen people spent the night at GJHS, where the American Red Cross set up a shelter.
For those still evacuated from there homes, officials have organized a planning meeting Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, 730 Mesa Avenue.
After the meeting, crews from Xcel Energy will be doing walk-throughs with each home's residents, checking gas levels, relighting pilot lights and deciding if it's safe to return home.
Residents will only be allowed back inside if Xcel crews have signed off.
About 250 Xcel customers still don't have natural gas, and 100 are without electricity, according to Mark Stutz, Senior Media Representative for Xcel. Many of those outages are overlapping.
UPDATE: 7:50 p.m. 3/19/2013
Authorities are allowing some residents to return home after a natural gas leak, explosion and fire which leveled two homes along 7th Street.
About 75 homes are still under evacuation orders. They're within the following boundary: both sides of 7th St. from Elm St. to Walnut Ave. and Orchard Ave. to Walnut Ave. from 6th to 8th Streets.
The Red Cross has set up a shelter at Grand Junction High School for those who can't go home. Evacuees will get dinner from the Salvation Army on 6th Street.
Tonight, the Grand Junction Fire Department is taking residents in the evacuation zone to their homes to make brief checks and grab necessary items such as medications and pets. Residents who need to go home can meet at the command post in the Grand Junction High School parking lot before 11 p.m. so they can be teamed up with fire fighters who can take them to their homes.
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- Residents are returning home after a gas leak causes a house to explode and hundreds to be evacuated.
Grand Junction Fire Department crews were called to help Xcel Energy with a gas leak around 12:50 p.m. when firefighters spotted flames at 1752 7th Street, according to the Mesa County Joint Information Center.
The house exploded as units responded. Two people inside the house were blown outside, and a third person, who may have been just outside, was burned.
All three were taken to the hospital with "significant injuries." One has been released, while the other two are still under observation.
A dog that was near the house at the time was later found by a neighbor.
Officials say natural gas had leaked into the structure and caught fire, causing the explosion. The fire then spread to the home next door, 1742 7th Street. Both houses are a total loss.
About 30 firefighters were on scene, attacking the flames from the outside. Now, they are allowing some fire to remain in order to burn off excess natural gas.
Xcel Energy has shut off gas to the area.
Evacuations are still in place for people who live on 7th Street between Elm and Orchard Avenue, as well as anyone between Walnut and Orchard avenues and 6th and 8th streets.
However, Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper says everyone else within the initial evacuation area (between 6th and 9th streets and Bookcliff and North avenues) can return, although power may still be off in their house.
The American Red Cross is coordinating an evacuation center at the Grand Junction High School's north gymnasium, 1400 N. 5th Street. The team will provide assistance and information to those who have been told to stay away.
Grand Junction High School and Tope Elementary students were evacuated from their schools. Students from GJHS were taken to the Salvation Army and Sherwood Park. Tope Elementary students were taken to West Middle School.
Officers are restricting traffic between Patterson Road and North Avenue and between 1st and 12th streets, so avoid driving in that area. Seventh Street is completely closed between North and Patterson.
According to Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper, a high-pressure line is releasing about 40 pounds per square inch of gas into the sewer line.
Crews are opening manhole covers in order to ventilate the sewer system, but Camper says high natural gas levels have only been detected at 7th and Orchard, not at other manholes within the evacuation area.
Moving forward, workers will arrive on scene within an hour to fix the gas line, which is seven feet underground. Meanwhile, a large vacuum will suck out gas from the 7th/Orchard manhole to prevent it from leaking into the sewer system.
Camper hopes that repairs will be made within a couple of hours, at which point some residents will be allowed to return home.
Student Christian Lovelett was at a friend's house -- just two houses away -- at the time of the explosion.
"We heard a loud boom and the house shook," he said via Facebook. "My friend's parents started freaking out and my friend looked out the window to see fire spewing out into the back alley."
Lovelett and the family immediately fled the area.
Primerica and Canyon View Vineyard Church are collecting donations for those who lost all their possessions in the explosion. If you have items you'd like to give, drop them off at Primerica, 1119 N. 1st Street, Suite F.
View Orchard Ave & N 7th St in a larger map