Six Heights homes evacuated because of natural gas leak

Police and fire helped Northwest Natural Gas evacuate six homes in an east Heights neighborhood Monday night in response to an underground gas leak.

No one was hurt and there was no property damage, though residents in the homes on June and May streets between Fourth and Fifth streets were advised to stay elsewhere for the night.

Fire chief Devon Wells said his department was called to the scene at 9:45 p.m. by Northwest Natural after a crew had found “a very high reading” of gas in the basement of a home.

“They were highly concerned,” Wells said. Neighbors had detected the odor and called Northwest Natural, who were already starting evacuations when fire and police arrived.

Dawn Johnson, public information officer for Northwest Natural, said a neighbor called the emergency line to report an odor coming from 917 Fourth St. Officials found odor from a steel service line, dug up the line and repaired it. “That prompted us to set up a perimeter, along with law enforcement,” Wells said.

Authorities went door to door, and blocked off the streets. Johnson said the home’s occupants were put up for the night at a local hotel.

Lt. Tony DePinto said, “I wasn’t sure how people would react, but everyone was very cordial and cooperative.”

Anne Burton, who lives near Fourth and June, said she saw blinking lights on the street and went out to inquire, and was advised to evacuate, so she stayed the night at friends. When she returned at 5:30 a.m., “everything was back to normal.”

Her neighbor, Linda Holloway, said she considered leaving but stayed in her home.

“I did sleep on the ground floor in case I needed to get out fast,” she said.

Gas company crews dug some explorative holes to ventilate the natural gas, and jackhammered the street, cramped the line, and stopped the leak, according to Wells. He said that as of about 10 a.m. the gas company crew was still on the scene, doing patch work and fixing the leak, but residents were allowed back in their homes.

The fire department returned to quarters at midnight.

Calls to the fire department about gas leaks are relatively routine, and usually amount to a digging accident that punctures a line, leaking gas into the air, according to Wells. Typically the gas dissipates in the wind. But this situation was potentially more hazardous, according to Wells: the gas had pooled up in the basement of the house.

“With this, a line was a leaking into the house or underground somewhere, and it ended up filling a basement and leaking into the ground,” Wells said. “It can get into utility lines, and those are the reports you see where a fire ignites, when the gas finds an ignition site.” Northwest Natural Gas “poured a lot of resources into this, with a very fast result,” he said. Johnson said, “The big message is the neighbor did the right thing. One of our biggest safety messages is if you smell something like rotten eggs, leave the premises on foot and call our 24-hour emergency line, 1-800-882- 3377.”

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