An 18-year-old man died when a chimney toppled by an explosion fell on his vehicle in the city of Lawrence, according to the North Andover newspaper, The Eagle-Tribune.
"Numerous evacuations of neighbourhoods where there are gas orders are underway".
Massachusetts State Police are urging anyone whose homes are serviced by Columbia Gas in the area to evacuate, snarling traffic and causing widespread confusion as residents and local officials struggle to understand what was happening.
He warned anyone with concerns to leave their houses and head to North Andover High School, which is being set up as a gathering point.
Massachusetts State Police posted a map showing fires and explosions stretching across a swath of the community, saying "39 locations confirmed thus far". There were 38 fires in Andover alone and at the peak of the incident, 18 fires were burning at the same time. The first explosion was triggered by an overpressurized gas line, WBZ News reported.
Lawrence General Hospital said it was treating 10 victims, including at least one in critical condition.
Officials rushed to shut off both gas and electricity service to several towns to prevent. "There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me". (Mary Schwalm/AP) Lawrence residents stop to take photos of a house on Bowdoin Street in Lawrence Friday.
A statement released Friday morning by the Columbia natural gas company, which serves the neighborhoods involved, said an "extensive restoration effort" will be required before the neighborhoods can return to normal.
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In nearby Methuen, police chief Joseph Solomon said 20 to 25 homes were on fire in Lawrence when he responded to help. No other information on a timeline or work required was immediately available from the company.
Andover officials say in a statement that all 35 fires in the town have been extinguished.
That occurred when a Columbia Gas technician called to investigate a gas odor at a nightclub accidentally punctured a line, the state Department of Public Utilities said in a report.
Some residents were evacuated from their homes to senior centers and middle schools as officials investigated the situation, police said.
"People need to get out of this area safely, and it's really hard because the traffic right now is horrendous", he said.
The three communities house more than 146,000 residents about 26 miles (40 kilometres) north of Boston, near the New Hampshire border.
Massachusetts State Police say officers were sent to Lawrence, Andover and North Andover shortly after reports of the first blast at around 5pm (10pm BST).
Warren and Seaman said the last time they responded to MA for a major blaze was the Malden Mills factory fire in Lawrence in 1995.
"I can't think of a series of natural gas-related incidents like this", McCown, who led PHMSA under then-President George W. Bush, told Reuters by telephone.