The gas firm's parent company, Indiana-based NiSource, earlier said its thoughts were with those affected.
Gov. Charlie Baker said state and local authorities were investigating but that it could take days or weeks before they turn up answers, acknowledging the "massive inconvenience" for those displaced by the explosions.
"Numerous evacuations of neighbourhoods where there are gas odours are underway", police said. It was not clear how many people lost their homes permanently due to fire damage.
Fire investigators suspected "over-pressurization of a gas main" belonging to Columbia Gas of MA led to the series of explosions and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield told a news conference.
Lawrence General Hospital said on its Facebook page it treated 13 people for injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to blast trauma.
Local officials said at least one firefighter and two civilians were injured in the "gas-related fires".
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Merrimack College, a private Catholic school in North Andover, instructed its staff and students to evacuate "immediately". "We've got lots of donuts and it's about these poor people, it's not about us or the business, it's making sure they get what they need".
An 18-year-old man was in a auto in Lawrence in a driveway when a house exploded, the chimney landed on the vehicle and the victim was pronounced dead. At least 18 fires were burning at the same time.
A man whose neighbourhood was among those affected said he ran into his basement to find the room was glowing.
"They have promised hundreds of teams of technicians and none of them have materialized", said Rivera, adding, "they wasted last night calling the other utilities to come in".
When he ran downstairs and saw the boiler on fire, he quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out.
Not all of the fires have been fully extinguished yet, Mayor Dan Rivera said at a 00:30 local (04:30 GMT) press conference. The group was then immediately dispatched to Lawrence to meet up with other crews gathering at a staging area at the Showcase Cinemas site.
At the height of the disaster, Michael Rivera, who narrowly escaped a house fire, said his city "looked like a war zone".
At one point, power was cut off to all residents in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
The utility said it was "working with the appropriate authorities to investigate this incident in order to understand its cause". The three communities, near the New Hampshire border, together have more than 146,000 residents.
State police urged residents served by Columbia Gas to evacuate their homes, saying the utility was cutting pressure to its lines and that it would take "some time" to shut off all service.
Columbia had announced earlier Thursday that it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the area where the explosions happened. It was not clear whether work was happening there, and a spokeswoman did not return calls. "Number will grow. New responses ongoing".
Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon says there are so many fires "you can't even see the sky", while Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque said he's "never seen anything like this".
The rapid-fire series of gas explosions that one official described as "Armageddon" ignited fires in 60 to 80 homes in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, forcing entire neighbourhoods to evacuate as crews scrambled to fight the flames and shut off the gas and electricity.
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