Old dump blamed for explosion

TUCKER -- Authorities believe a closed landfill is the cause of a methane gas explosion that has left a portion of U.S. Highway 29 closed since Sunday.

"That seems like the most logical source of the methane," said Georgia Environmental Protection Division spokesman Kevin Chambers, pointing to the now defunct Crymes Landfill, which accepted garbage in the 1970s and 1980s.

The southbound lanes of the highway were expected to remain closed, at least until this morning, as AT&T officials worked to purge the gas from underground vaults used to encapsulate telephone lines underneath the road.

"The immediate concern is public health and safety," Chambers said, adding that officials are working on a long-term strategy to eradicate the problem.

Firefighters were called to the road just before 1 p.m. Sunday, because of reports of an underground explosion. There, they found three manhole covers had been blown off, said Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge.

A hazardous materials team helped secure the scene, where AT&T and EPD officials used industrial fans to bring the methane gas readings to lower levels. Rutledge said firefighters returned later Sunday to find the methane levels had risen back to dangerous levels that evening.

By Monday morning, the levels had reached zero, he said, and fire officials are prepared to return to the scene as needed.

Rutledge said no businesses were evacuated, and people were allowed to walk along the highway, but some lanes from Jimmy Carter Boulevard to Pounds Road were closed due to damage.

"The danger with that methane build-up was mainly a flammability factor," he said. "The folks at (federal) EPA and (state) EPD will be looking for a long-term solution."