related callsLa Crosse, WI- A recent house explosion on the city’s North Side serves as a scary reminder about the dangers of a natural gas leak, officials said.

“I think it brought it to (the community’s) attention,” said La Crosse Fire Department Division Chief Michael Ethridge. “Any time you have a home explosion, people tend to use more caution on odors they smell.”

Though fire officials said Tuesday they still are investigating the cause of Thursday morning’s explosion at 1411 Palace St., homeowner Tony Subjek last week said he was told a leaking kitchen gas valve was to blame.

The fire department has investigated about 10 calls reporting natural gas leaks, carbon monoxide or suspicious odors since Dec. 1, Ethridge said. A majority of the reports concerned failed stove and furnace pilot lights, he said.

The Onalaska Fire Department also reported a minor spike in natural gas-related calls. Fire officials weren’t sure whether the house explosion or the onset of winter prompted the flurry of calls.

“(The increase) is common this time of year, because it’s the heating season and people are starting furnaces for the first time,” said Onalaska Assistant Fire Chief Troy Gudie.

Natural gas — a colorless and odorless gas — is used to run gas stoves, furnaces, water heaters, dryers and wall heating units. Mercaptan, which gives the gas a sulfur or rotten egg smell, is added to pipelines to signal home owners of a leak, said Xcel Energy spokesman Brian Elwood. Residents should smell the odor before they feel any physical symptoms from inhaling gas, he said.

If residents smell sulfur or any unusual odor, they should evacuate the house immediately and call 911 from outside or a neighbor’s house, Ethridge said.

Danger lurks if they don’t.

“They’re putting themselves at risk,” Ethridge said. “A telephone or any small spark could set it off.”

Added Elwood, “Natural gas can fill up a home very quickly.”

Residents should not re-enter the home after authorities have been alerted. The fire department will investigate and call proper gas agencies if necessary, Ethridge said.

To help prevent gas leaks, gas appliances, especially furnaces, should be inspected annually, Gudie said.

Outside vents also should be cleared of snow and ice to prevent a buildup that could route carbon monoxide into the building, he said.