Gas line ruptures while county crews clean up homeless encampment

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The two-acre lot was filled with needles and trash and about two dozen people now have to find a new place to live. (KFSN)

The Fresno County Sheriff led efforts to take down a smelly eyesore filled with criminal elements in Fresno County, but cleanup efforts were halted for a short time after an excavator hit a gas line.

Crews with the Fresno County Sheriff's Office were cleaning up a homeless encampment on Lafayette and Dennett -- near Olive and Hughes west of Fresno -- when the gas line was hit.

The sheriff says two of the biggest problems at the camp were prostitution and drug use. The two-acre lot was filled with needles and trash and about two dozen people now have to find a new place to live.

When crews arrived, they said only about eight to 10 people were still living in the encampment. Signs were posted last week warning residents of the impending cleanup.

Monday morning, dozens of employees from environmental health, social services, behavioral health and other outreach agencies gathered to clean up the area and haul away the garbage. Nine RV's were also carted off.

"Because of the quality of life issues, the concerns of residents and the unhealthy atmosphere gave to this neighborhood," Sheriff Margaret Mims said. "We came out and we're cleaning it up."

During the cleanup, a contract worker hired by Fresno County Public Works hit a gas line with an excavator. PG&E said the gas line was three feet above the ground and located amid trash and debris of the encampment.


Fresno firefighters were called out to handle the leak, and it became a serious concern once they discovered the encampment had a bonfire that wasn't fully put out.

"That warming fire created an ignition source for the gas fumes itself and, actually, we did have multiple spot fires in this whole time frame of the incident," Hector Vasquez with the fire department said.

Anyone within a 300-foot radius was forced to evacuate their homes until PG&E crews were able to cap the leak. Deputies say residents were given a one-week warning that the area was being cleaned up on March 6.

Sheriff's officials did contact the property owner about the overhaul Monday. They have also fenced the area off. The cleanup cost was thousands of dollars, and it appears the county will be footing the bill on this major clean up.


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