Heat has been restored for nearly all 4,500 SaskEnergy customers in the Melfort area left without natural gas services after a line ruptured Wednesday morning.

The Crown corporation said in a news release sent early Thursday evening work to restore services should be completed by 7 p.m. and the required follow-up checks should be finished hours later. The outage was the biggest ever recorded in Saskatchewan, according to SaskEnergy.

The high-pressure transmission line broke between Birch Hills and Weldon, causing thousands of residents in the Melfort, St. Brieux and Kinistino area to lose gas to their furnaces and other appliances.

Crews began immediate repairs and re-routed the gas to a different line, which allowed technicians to begin re-lighting furnaces Wednesday, according to SaskEnergy. Forty technicians were called in and, by Thursday morning, service had been restored to about half of the customers.

The line was repaired by 9 p.m. Wednesday.

“It did take a couple of hours to purge the air and do all the safety testing, but our system is now operating at near normal capacity,” SaskEnergy spokesperson Dave Burdeniuk said.

Temperatures dipped well into the minus 20s on Wednesday and Thursday. Burdeniuk said, because of the cold, technicians called police and locksmiths to unlock doors, when necessary.

“We know it’s a race against time. It is very cold and we don’t want to have any situation where water pipes freeze and then they burst,” Burdeniuk said.

“We’re racing to beat that and we want to make sure we do this safely.”

A warming shelter set up at the Kerry Vickar Centre in Melfort will remain open until 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday nights for anyone who is without heat, according to the city.

SaskEnergy asks any customers in the Melfort area who have yet to have their services checked to call 1-888-700-0427.