Naperville, IL – By Bill Bird, Naperville Sun – Fifty residents of a townhouse community on Naperville’s far southwest side were forced to flee their homes late Tuesday afternoon after a defective natural-gas meter hose apparently sparked a fire that damaged one homeowner’s garage, police and fire officials said.

Police ordered the evacuation as a precaution following the gas leak and fire that erupted about 3:50 p.m. at 3217 Cool Springs Court, Naperville police Sgt. Gregg Bell said at the scene.

No injuries were reported in the incident. Cool Springs Court is in the Signature Club at Clearwater neighborhood, southwest of 95th Street and Route 59.

Mary Hodap, owner of the damaged townhouse, called 911 after returning home to what she described as a “burning” aroma inside her home’s attached garage. At least two neighbors also reportedly called 911 about the same time.

The roar of what proved to be escaping gas sent Hodap inside the home to investigate.

“I didn’t know if it was gas” at first, she said. “I thought maybe my water had been turned on.”

Hodap has shared the townhouse for three years with her son, Richard Hodap, who soon joined his mother at the scene.

They and other anxious residents milled about Crystal Rock Road, which borders Cool Springs Court to the north and east, as 12 firefighters and a contingent of police assessed the situation.

Jim Robb, who lives across the street and north of the Hodaps, seated himself at the curb while others bundled elderly relatives and children into their cars and sport utility vehicles before leaving the area.

Robb said he was outside his home when the commotion erupted at the Hodaps. He said either flames or heat appeared to have “melted the siding” of the Hodaps’ garage.

Mary Hodap said she initially feared her gas meter might have been tampered with while she and her son were away from home.

But Assistant Naperville Fire Chief Patrick J. Mullen said the problem apparently stemmed from “a supply hose that separated from the gas meter” and then sparked a blaze in mulch at the base of the meter.

The flames appeared to have damaged only the siding on the garage’s south side, along the walkway leading to the Hodaps’ front door. Firefighters tore out some of the garage drywall to ensure the blaze had not spread to the interior walls.

Police allowed residents to return to their homes beginning at 6:30 p.m., a little more than 90 minutes after the emergency began.

Mullen said fire investigators as of late Tuesday still did not know what caused the supply hose to separate from the meter.

A Nicor Gas crew about 6:45 p.m. began digging in the area with a backhoe in an attempt to find the gas supply main leading to the Hodaps’ home.

Nicor Community Relations Director Tom Kallay said crew members were able to install “a temporary service” to the Hodaps’ home. Gas company investigators were working with firefighters to pinpoint the exact cause and source of Tuesday’s trouble, Kallay said.

Mary Hodap said she remained relatively calm during the crisis. “But they (firefighters) did come with their axes” to her front door, a sight she confessed left her feeling “a little shaky.”

“But no one was hurt, and there doesn’t even seem to be any smoke damage in the house,” Hodap said. “So I’m very grateful for that.”