Residents return home after gas leak fixed |

Residents return home after gas leak fixed

SUMMIT COVE – Families evacuated from a ruptured natural gas line at Key West Farms returned home by 8 p.m. Tuesday after firefighters and utility personnel deemed the area safe. The gas line was repaired by 10:30 p.m.

A contracting crew from Stan Miller Inc. cut a 6-inch gas line Tuesday morning while conducting late-season excavation work as part of a Summit County government project to remediate drainage and flooding problems that have plagued the Summit Cove-Key West Farms area for the past three years.

The timing of the response and ensuing evacuation of residents drew criticism from the fire department and evacuees.

According to cel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz, the excavators ruptured the line at 9:54 a.m. An cel response crew arrived at 10:28 a.m. Snake River Fire Chief Dave Parmley said cel notified Summit County dispatchers by 11 a.m., but told the communications center that firefighters weren’t needed.

Parmley’s department arrived in the neighborhood by 11:15 a.m., and he said officers quickly decided to evacuate the area.

At least one homeowner, however, said firefighters didn’t knock on her door until after 1 p.m. By that time, she had already left the area on her own.

“It took them way too long,” said Tara Thompson, a Tallyho Court resident. Firefighters from the Snake River and Lake Dillon districts responded and evacuated a reported 24 homes from Tallyho Court, Geil Lane, Wagner Way and Chateau Acadian condominiums. “Why did it take three-and-a-half hours with that much gas going on?”

Thompson said she could hear a “loud, very forceful swishing noise” for about two hours. Shortly after the noise began, she smelled mercaptan, the additive utility companies put in odorless natural gas to warn people of leaks. She left home for work and found a fire truck parked on the side of the road. Thompson said she was unnerved by the firefighters’ casual response and that area residents weren’t being evacuated immediately.

The Snake River Fire Protection District has requested a quicker response from cel in the past. On Feb. 20, 2001, a gas leak at Keystone Resort employee housing forced the evacuation of nearly 200 residents. Investigators found a broken 2-inch gas line in the building. An cel crew arrived at the scene about 90 minutes after firefighters had secured the leak.

After the incident, Parmley said, he worked out protocols with cel for responding to gas leaks.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Parmley said Wednesday. “We thought this was taken care of. That incident was at night, this was during the day when they’re up and running. And we’re a little troubled that they told the dispatchers we didn’t need to respond.”

State law requires cel and other gas providers to respond to emergencies within four hours. cel’s Stutz said Tuesday’s response was well within that limit and the average response time.

“Frankly, at the time when we told the dispatchers, they asked if the fire department was needed and we said, “No,'” Stutz said. “We get more than 100 gas line breaks a year in your area, from people doing landscaping or just backing into meters in their car. We don’t call the fire department all the time because they’re not needed. Our initial assessment here determined we didn’t need the fire department.”

Stutz said people near gas leaks can often be alarmed by the mercaptan smell, which doesn’t always indicate a large amount of gas in the air. He said there was “no way gas would flow up to the nearby residents.” He said, after residents became concerned, the officials at the scene gave the order to evacuate and “err on the side of caution.”

Some homeowners, such as Thompson, didn’t wait. Dillon’s Mountain Branch of the American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at Summit Cove Elementary School. Although crews had stopped the blowing gas by 5:45 p.m., and residents had returned home and re-lit pilot lights in their appliances by 8 p.m., Thompson left for Denver to avoid the uncertain wait.

“My roommate and I had a headache all day and, I was feeling nauseous,” Thompson said. “Next time, they’ve got to jump right in. They can’t be messing around.”

Parmley said he has requested the tape of cel’s conversation with dispatchers and will approach the company about future responses.

Stutz said he did not know how much gas was released by the line break. Company investigators will estimate the gas loss, as well as whether “locates” – the procedure for marking the placement of utility conduits – were done properly by the contractor. Stutz said representatives from cel’s claims department will meet with Stan Miller representatives to discuss the loss.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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