A $700,000 piece of construction equipment was destroyed Wednesday after a paving crew accidentally ruptured a pressurized gas line on Ewing Street, sparking an hours-long fire and a spill of nearly 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
An operator from Top Line Construction Corp. in Somerville struck the gas line just north of Cuyler Road around 8:30 a.m. while milling the road, according to Princeton Police.
The equipment operator was able to escape the blaze before the milling machine became fully engulfed in the flames of the gas fire.
No one was injured.
Trenton Hazmat responded to clean the diesel oil from the roadway. Representatives from the state's Department of Environmental Protection and PSE&G were also present.
Ewing St. between North Harrison Street and Terhune Road and Cuyler Road between Ewing and Walnut Lane were closed and some nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution, police said.
It all could have been avoided if PSE&G had simply marked the utility lines, Top Line Construction Co-owner Steve Castela said.
State law requires that contractors notify utilities about upcoming projects. Castela said his firm did that for the Ewing Street project. It's up to PSE&G to then mark the roadway with either flags or paint in order to avoid accidents.
"They didn't come out," Castela said Wednesday afternoon. "Had this been marked, this wouldn't have happened."
Princeton Municipal Engineer Robert Kiser confirmed Castela's account, saying he has seen documentation and confirmation of the utility notification.
"For whatever reason, the gas main was not marked in that area," Kiser said, noting that typically gas services and mains are located well below the road surface, not at 8-9 inches down, which is where Top Line was working.
"It's extremely unusual that a gas main or service is that high, it's typically located 2-3 feet underground," Kiser said.
Patch contacted PSE&G late Wednesday to find out exactly what happened.
"I can confirm that mark outs were done at this location, but the exact location of the mark outs remains under investigation," PSE&G Kristine Snodgrass wrote in an email. "Whenever working near gas lines, contractors are expected to demonstrate reasonable and prudent care."
She could not say precisely when Ewing Street was marked for this project.
Meanwhile, Wednesday's fire could not be extinguished until nearly 3 p.m., at which time gas was turned off in the area in order to make repairs.
Destroyed in the fire was the $700,000 milling machine owned by Top Line.
"It was brand new and this was the first job it was being used on," Kiser said.
Once cleanup is complete, the project could resume as early as next week.
Responding to Wednesday's incident were Princeton Fire, Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad, West Windsor Emergency Services, Monroe Township Emergency Services, Mercer Airport Emergency Services, Plainsboro Fire, Rusling Hose (Hamilton) Fire, and Trenton Engine #1.