A GAS explosion which wrecked six homes may have been caused by bungling copper cable thieves trying to steal an overhead electricity line.
It is believed thieves cut a power line and left it dangling behind the row of six terraced houses on Rhodes Street, Castleford, in the early hours yesterday.
Just before 1.30am, firefighters were called to what was reported as a string of small fires in homes on Rhodes Street.
They quickly realised the danger and evacuated around 30 residents just minutes before a massive gas explosion ripped through the terraced row, demolishing walls and roofs.
Two people unable to get downstairs due to smoke logging were rescued from upstairs windows.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.
Incident commander Richard Hall, of West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “There was a real potential for loss of life had the residents not been evacuated.”
The incident happened just five days after 16-year-old Ryan Woolams was killed after tampering with cable at a disused power station at Skelton Grange in Stourton, Leeds.
Mick Hickling of CE Electric said cable thieves cut down and stole overhead power lines in the Ferry Fryston and Townville areas of Castleford in the early hours yesterday.
He added: “It was obviously a gang working through the night. They are risking not only their own lives but the lives of other people by leaving the conductors hanging down.”
Mr Hickling said theft of copper cable in West Yorkshire has reached “epidemic proportions”.
He said the thieves are risking death to get around £100 scrap value for a four to five metre length of copper wire.
Wakefield Council leader Coun Peter Box and chief executive Joanne Roney visited the scene yesterday and paid tribute to the bravery of firefighters whose actions saved lives.
Coun Box said: “It is clear to me that without the swift action of firefighters in evacuating the houses, people would have been killed.”
A spokesman for CE Electric and Northern Gas Networks said: “We can confirm that there was an incident of metal theft from CE Electric UK’s overhead line network in the early hours of yesterday morning. Electricity supplies to 63 properties and gas supplies to 55 properties have been interrupted as a safety precaution in the area of Hightown, Castleford.
“An explosion has also been reported and the cause of this subsequent incident is under investigation. Engineers from CE Electric UK and Northern Gas Networks are on site working with the police and fire to ensure the area is made safe and we are endeavouring to restore supplies as soon as possible.
The spokesman added: “Copper theft continues to blight our network and, despite the recent fatality in Leeds, these incidents continue to occur at an average of four every day.
“We cannot stress enough how dangerous it is to tamper with electrical equipment on the network. We are pleading with these thieves to think about the consequences of their actions and how much they are personally risking for such a small return.”
Police said inquiries are ongoing into the theft of cables last night and to determine the cause of the explosion.
Acting Chief Supt Tyron Joyce, of Wakefield District Police, said: “The theft of cables poses a significant risk of injury to the people who attempt to steal them and causes misery to householders who are affected.
“I would appeal to anyone who witnessed suspicious behaviour before the incident to call Wakefield CID on 0845 60 60 606.”