Neighbors and friends gathered in Settlers Park yesterday to take part in a memorial for Mark Martinez and Joseph (Joey) William Irwin III who died in a Firestone, CO house explosion on April 17. The close-knit community has rallied to support the families as they grieve the two men and pray for the recovery of Erin Martinez, Mark’s wife and Joe’s sister, who was severely injured in the blast and remains hospitalized in critical condition.

On Friday, students at Mountain Range High School held a fundraiser for Erin, a physics and chemistry teacher at the school. And a GoFundMe page for the families has raised more than $100,000.

But as they try to cope with the tragedy, some neighbors have also begun to fear for their own safety.

The Explosion

On April 17,  Joey – a plumber with 20 years of experience and a reputation for his attention to detail, came to help Mark work on a hot water heater. An explosion killed both men and pinned Erin beneath the rubble. A nearby construction crew braved the raging fire and used a forklift to lift the section of the home that had fallen on Erin and freed her. Witnesses told local media that the fire was so intense the house was completely destroyed within 15 minutes.

And neighbors are worried it could happen again.

Smoke Explosion
brochee | iStock / Getty Images Plus

Oil and Gas Well Closures

Throughout the Oak Meadows subdivision, oil and gas wells dot the landscape. One resident told the Denver Post that she and her husband discussed the wells with the builder, Century Communities, when they purchased their home in 2015. They were told the wells were closed and capped, she said. She and others were surprised to learn that was not the case.

The recently built home on Twilight Avenue where Erin and Mark Martinez lived with their two children was located about 170 feet from a vertical well operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

Although the cause of the house explosion has not yet been identified, the 24-year-old well, which was recently restarted, is part of the investigation of the blast being conducted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the Firestone police and fire departments.

On April 26, Anadarko released a statement saying that as a precautionary measure it had temporarily closed the well and 3,000 others in northeastern Colorado.  The next day, Great Western Oil & Gas Co. said that it, too, was closing wells as a proactive measure in a statement that read in part:

“Even though an oil and gas well flowline has not been determined to be the cause of the Firestone incident, in an abundance of caution, GW has inventoried all well gas lines within approximately 250-feet of occupied buildings and identified 61 gas lines within that distance.  All 61 of these wells are presently being shut-in, and this will be completed by 1:00pm today (04/27/17).  Testing with air pressure will be completed on all 61 lines, and wells will only be brought back into service after passing the pressure test.”

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