Colorado homeowners seek answers after deadly gas explosion

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

The gas leak and explosion hit Heather Gardens, a 55+ senior  community of 3,800 residents, on November 16, 2018.

One resident died in a ball of fire that destroyed her home. Another resident and a fire fighter were injured. Several homes in the vicinity were damaged from the explosion, smoke, and fire.

But 10 days after the blast, residents attending an HOA meeting still aren’t sure why the explosion happened, and whether or not their community is safe.

Heather Gardens seniors take safety into their own hands after deadly gas explosion in Aurora

Another gas leak reported over the weekend

Jennifer Kovaleski
5:28 PM, Nov 26, 2018
5:35 PM, Nov 26, 2018

AURORA, Colo. — More than a week after a deadly home explosion at an Aurora senior living community that took the life of beloved resident Carol Ross, homeowners want to know they’re safe and that another blast won’t happen again.

The explosion shook the Heather Gardens community Nov. 16 after a gas leak was reported at the senior living community located off Yale Ave. and Abilene St. in Aurora.

“We need to stick together on this,” longtime resident Rita Crompton told the crowd Monday morning, as dozens of concerned seniors packed a nearby hotel to demand accountability and take safety into their own hands after another reported gas leak at the complex over the weekend of which few were made aware.

“There was a leak on Tuesday, leak on Wednesday, leak on Friday and then the explosion. There was another gas leak yesterday,” explained Crompton. “How many heard about it?” she asked. “Nobody, ” she said after very few people raised their hands.

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Did underground drilling for fiber optic cable hit gas lines?

Heather Gardens was established in 1973, and construction was completed in 1987. The community has been under the management of an owner-elected HOA board since 1983.

A special district, Heather Gardens Metropolitan District (HGMD), also established in 1983, funds and manages recreational amenities, including a golf course.

Given the community’s age, it’s safe to assume that much of the infrastructure for Heather Gardens is close to the end of its useful life. Indeed, Xcel Energy is in the process of replacing gas pipes throughout Colorado.

However, homeowners or their HOAs are responsible for maintenance and replacement of gas supply lines from main lines at the curb to individual homes or condo buildings.

Gas lines that have not been recently replaced by Xcel Energy, the HOA, or homeowners could be 30 to 45 years old.

In this context, Xfinity Comcast is working to modernize communication infrastructure in Heather Gardens.

According to two reports in the Denver Post, an Xcel Energy (gas company) spokesperson says that the communications company’s contractor ruptured its gas line.  Xcel says gas lines were damaged by horizontal drilling equipment commonly used for installation of fiber optic cables.

The contractor, identified by the HOA as ICS Communications, was working for Comcast Xfinity Cable company.

Heather Gardens HOA says that they were notified of three gas leaks within several days prior to the explosion. The first two leaks reportedly occurred on November 13 and 14. Both were quickly repaired.

But something about this story doesn’t hang together.

Reportedly, after the November 16th explosion and fire, all drilling activity was halted, pending the results of investigations by the Aurora Fire Department.

If that’s true, then what exactly caused a fourth leak on November 25?

Was a gas line ruptured more than 9 days earlier by ICS drilling? Or could something else have caused the gas leak?

And, above all, why didn’t most residents know about the November 25 leak?

Laptop computer internet communications


Poor communication plan

Like many senior communities, Heather Gardens does not have a robust communication plan that takes advantage of internet technology.

It’s sometimes assumed that older adults aren’t interested in or able to use modern technology. Although that assumption is not entirely true, it explains why many older retirement communities are way behind the times when it comes to communication technology.

Clearly, Xfinity was installing fiber optic cable, because the community lacks what is now considered basic communication infrastructure.

So how does the HOA communicate with its members?

The short answer is, not very effectively. Most residents were unaware that there were a total of three gas leaks in Heather Gardens prior to the deadly explosion.

To help improve communication, attendees of the November 26 meeting were asked to provide an email address, so that the HOA can contact residents more easily.

Although it’s quicker than snail mail, email is still woefully insufficient for emergency notices.

Did Heather Gardens or Xcel Energy have reverse call technology, which would have allowed the HOA or gas utility company to send an automated phone call to each resident’s landline or cell phone?

Apparently not.

However, the active adult community does have a website with general information for home buyers and residents.

Xcel safety check underway

According to a recent news announcement on the HOA’s website, Xcel Energy was scheduled to be on site November 29 to begin a complete safety check of all underground gas pipes in Heather Gardens.

Hopefully, when all investigations are complete, Heather Gardens residents and HOA will have the information they need to move forward.

In the meantime, the HOA needs to work on a more effective emergency communication plan.


Additional References:

Contractor struck buried gas lines twice in three days before deadly explosion at Aurora senior living community

Comcast confirms it had project underway, but does not acknowledge link to gas leaks

By ANNA STAVER | | The Denver Post
November 20, 2018 at 6:00 am

Workers drilling underground pathways — possibly to carry new fiber-optic cables — struck buried natural-gas lines twice in three days at the senior living community in Aurora that was rocked by a fatal explosion last week.

The second of those leaks, which was reported Friday afternoon, could be the cause of the blast that killed 82-year-old resident Carol Ross and burned several homes at the Heather Gardens complex.

“We were (already) there when the explosion and fire happened because we were investigating a gas leak,” Aurora Fire Rescue spokeswoman Sherri-Jo Stowell said on Monday.

Xcel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz confirmed both gas leaks were caused by the same company, which he declined to identify, and both involved horizontal directional drilling, which allows workers to burrow underground without digging open trenches.

“Their equipment ran into our line,” Stutz said of the two gas leaks at Heather Gardens.

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The following report reveals that many residents of Heather Gardens were not told about all three incidents of gas leaks within the community. Residents were also angry that they had not been advised to evacuate prior to the massive explosion.



See the following link for extensive live video coverage of the gas-fed fire at Heather Gardens on November 16, 2018.

One killed, several homes destroyed after gas explosion & fire in Heather Gardens
POSTED 6:00 PM, NOVEMBER 16, 2018, BY WEB STAFF, UPDATED AT 11:20AM, NOVEMBER 17, 2018 (KDVR videos)

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