Firefighters responded one hour before Durham explosion for report of gas but couldn't detect it, report says

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Firefighters responded to downtown Durham nearly an hour before last week's deadly explosion after someone reported a gas smell but returned to the fire station because they did not smell anything, according to a newly released report.

The report states that a woman called 911 at 9:11 a.m., reporting a strong smell of gas as she was driving through the intersection of North Duke and Morgan streets.

"It's just really strong smell of gas. And I didn't see anybody around working on anything, so I didn't... they weren't doing anything in that area, so I thought somebody might want to check it out," the woman said.

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The Durham Emergency Communication Center dispatched firefighters to the area at 9:13 a.m.

Durham Fire Department Engine 1 arrived at the intersection four minutes later but firefighters could not detect a smell of gas. At that point, they continued on to Durham School of the Arts.

The report states they tried to make contact with the original caller to get more information about the location where she smelled the odor but were unsuccessful.

After canvasing the area there, they returned to the original area where the smell was reported. According to the report, they still detected no odor of gas. The fire crew observed a gas service behind 710 West Main Street at the southeast corner of the intersection, and having found no sign of gas, believed a pressure related venting of gas occurred.

At that point, the firefighters cleared the call and returned to the station.

Thirteen minutes later -- at 9:37 a.m. -- the same unit was dispatched when the contractor called to report he had struck a gas line.

Durham fire officials say "there is no explanation for the gap between the first reported gas odor received at 9:11 a.m. and the time that passed before the contractor's call to 911."

They also say that, while a thorough investigation is underway, an initial review of what happened found that Engine 1 followed proper procedures "and showed diligence in attempting to verify the presence of a gas odor."

Additionally, the new report states that an initial review of the fire department's response to the hazardous materials emergency "shows no deviations" from the department's guidelines.

The explosion happened at 10:07 a.m. and affected a total of 15 buildings. One person -- 61-year-old Kong Lee, the owner of Kaffeinate Coffee Shop -- died and 25 others were injured.
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