LAWRENCE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- A state of emergency has been declared following dozens of gas-ignited fires in the Merrimack Valley.

Communities are pulling together after a mass evacuation and Governor Baker and local leaders are asking Columbia Gas to answer questions.

Earlier this afternoon, Steve Bryant, president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts - the company at the source of this explosion - held a press conference.

"We are sorry. We're sorry and deeply concerned about the inconvenience. This is, this is, this is, this is the sort of thing that a gas distribution company hopes never happens and what were doing now is to try to provide all the resources that we possibly can to be able to correct, to be able to correct the damage," Bryant explained.

Still, the governor has handed over the reins of this emergency effort to Eversource.

Several shelters have been set-up for families in the area as they wait for the go-ahead to return home.

This afternoon, Baker said that he wasn't liking the way things were managed in Lawrence and now. Eversource is taking over the effort.

"Today, after a number of very significant issues, we heard one thing and something else happened," Baker explained.

Harsh criticism came from Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, echoed by Baker's decision to declare a state of emergency

"Everything since then has been obfuscation and they have not met their mandate. They've promised hundreds of teams of technicians, none have materialized. They promised that they would get the gas shut off by late tomorrow night and I think at the pace they're going now they're going to blow that window," Rivera added.

Columbia Gas responded to the claim.

"I respect the governor's judgment. The governor has the same interest as we do we want to restore service to these customers," Bryant.

Meanwhile, inside one of the shelters, a young family anxiously awaits answers.

"We were very worried because of the little baby and the gas odor," the family explained.

Cradling an infant, a translator explained the panic that went through this father's mind.

"Waiting and praying that everything goes back to normal very soon again," they said.

It's something no one expected, but it was all hands on-deck.

"We left the house, started knocking on doors, all of our neighbors helping out...on the corner, the old lady that is in a wheelchair from the third floor," said Lawrence City Councilor Pavel Payano, who was among those evacuated.

The fires claimed a young life - Leonel Rondon - an 18-year-old who was killed when a chimney fell on his car. Sadly, he got his driver's license that very same day.

There has been an outpouring of support, ensuring that no one goes without the essentials.

"It was just sheer madness yesterday...I sprung into action," said Debo Brown.

A federal investigation is just beginning. State police used infrared technology from a helicopter located a gas leak under the pavement, but images only give clues - not answers.

"If they were here, they'd have to see the the major who's here from the state police, they have to see the the governor staff, they'd have to see my staff, the chief, they'd have to see their faces every five seconds. They're not here," Rivera added.

The investigation is just beginning. Officials said that it will take time before they can piece together the full puzzle.

Eversource president Bill Akley is responding to this incident, letting customers know the company has been monitoring the situation.

"We also conducted a safety stand down this morning with all of our gas crews to reinforce our commitment to safety and our gas operating procedures that enable safe operation, and we are always evaluating new procedures, technologies and industry best practices to perform at the top standards for the industry," Akley added in a statement.

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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