CONSTRUCTION workers were forced to flee for their lives after a massive explosion tore through machinery when a gas mains was ruptured during roadworks.
Three separate investigations are now under way into how a gas pipe was struck with a machine digging up a Co Kildare road.
The incident, which happened outside a housing estate at Sherlockstown Road in Sallins at around 7.15am last Monday week, resulted in an expensive road-paving machine being completely destroyed.
Such was the fire's intensity that the entire engine block was melted and the 34-tonne machine has been written off.
A spokesman for the contractors, Frank Murphy & Sons, from Manorkilbride in Co Wicklow, said the operator of the road-paving machine was lucky to escape with his life.
"There's a drum underneath the road-planing machine which just digs up the road, and the material goes onto an elevator and into a truck," said Francis Murphy, whose son Sean was operating the machine.
"He started in the centre of the junction, leaving half it open for traffic, and he got off the machine to tell the lorry driver what to do.
"The next thing there was an explosion and the whole machine went up in flames. He thought something had gone wrong and the machine had blown up.
"There were huge flames, going out five or six yards each side and going up into the air. There's no cabin on those machines. You stand on a platform. It was 34 tonnes in weight and it was lifted up off the ground."
The inferno was eventually extinguished at around 12.30pm by Bord Gais engineers. It said that two investigations were currently under way.
"There are currently two investigations, one by Bord Gais Networks, which will be reported to the Commission for Energy Regulation, and one by the Health and Safety Authority. While those investigations are ongoing, we cannot comment further," a Bord Gais spokesman said.
Kildare County Council said that the information provided to the contractor would form part of the investigation. Repaving works had been suspended, pending the outcome.
The Health and Safety Authority confirmed that it was investigating the incident.
By Paul Melia