It was a huge boom, like a scene from a movie – that’s what a bystander outside a downtown Fort Worth bookstore told WFAA News she heard around mid-afternoon Monday when an explosion rocked a nearby historic hotel built in 1920.
The blast happened at the 245-room, 20-story Sandman Signature Hotel in the old Waggoner Building.
There were no fatalities, but 21 people were injured – one critically – as huge amounts of debris, dust and smoke blew into the street. The cause of the explosion remains under investigation, and concerns have sent ripples across the region as initial signs point to a natural gas explosion.
The smell of gas downtown after the blast was noted by many, and representatives of Dallas-based gas distributor Atmos Energy have been at the scene and among those investigating. The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas in Texas, has also been looking into the incident.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram publicly raised a question many have been asking privately: Was Fort Worth explosion part of a trend in gas leak disasters? If investigators determine that was the cause of the explosion, it would seem to be part of what The Dallas Morning News describes as a worsening trend of similar incidents around the country, suspected to be linked to aging infrastructure.
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Sara Bahari, a Fort Worth-based reporter for The Dallas Morning News, said the smell of natural gas downtown was still pretty strong 24 hours after the explosion.
“At this point, authorities say the blast showed characteristics of a natural gas explosion, but they’re still working to confirm the cause,” she said. “Fort Worth Fire Chief Jim Davis said they’re trying to determine if gas caused the explosion or if the explosion caused the gas problem. And he called it a matter of the chicken or the egg.”
As of Tuesday, Bahari said one injured person remains in critical condition at the burn center at Parkland Health in Dallas.
“Four were injured, seriously, with concussive type issues, and at least two of those people are still hospitalized at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth,” she said. “The rest suffered minor injuries like aches, strains, lacerations, eye injuries.”
Bahari, who arrived on the scene soon after the explosion heard from witnesses that it felt like an earthquake, said investigations are still ongoing.
“They say that it will be a while while they work through this,” she said. “I will tell you that Atmos has dozens of trucks all over downtown right now. They have said that the building is not at risk of imminent collapse, but they have a structural collapse engineer working with them to make sure that anything they’re doing now won’t exacerbate the building’s issues. But we’re imagining that we’ll hear something about a cause in the coming days.”
In the past three years, there have been at least five other natural gas explosions in North Texas, according to the Railroad Commission.
“The Public Interest Research Groups put out a paper in 2022 that found that nearly 2,600 fires and explosions were caused by natural gas leaks from 2010 to 2021, and the group called them common and a public health and safety risk,” Bahari said. “The fire chief in Fort Worth said natural gas is absolutely safe, but he urged people to immediately call 911 if they smell gas.”