Visalia gas leak highlights dangerous problem

FRESNO, Calif.

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The ruptured line made for three gas leaks in three days in the Central Valley. Friday's leak affected about 70 homes located near McAuliff St. and Murray Ave. in Visalia.

The leaks Thursday and Friday happened almost 50 miles apart, but they have one thing in common. PG&E crews marked the area near Belmont and Humboldt with warnings about the gas line underground, but the construction crew still hit it Thursday. The same thing happened Friday in Visalia.

Yellow warning signs on Murray Ave. couldn't stop a construction crew from drilling through the dirt and rupturing a two-inch gas line. The crew from a company called Technicon was long gone by the time a gas company team dug its own holes -- with shovels -- and pinched the line shut. It's a job SoCal Gas Co. crews are good at, because they do it a lot.

"This is one of our leading causes of line breaks in the Southern California Gas Company territory, so it does happen somewhat frequently," said company spokesman Colby Wells.

People in about 70 homes downwind of the gas leak were asked to stay inside their homes, with the doors and windows shut, during the 90 minutes it took to cap the line. Nobody was hurt in Visalia and nobody was seriously injured after another construction crew punctured a line Thursday near Fresno's Roeding Park.

Again, the gas company -- in this case, PG&E -- properly marked the area before construction started. Both gas companies say they'll review policies with private contractors.

"We want to make sure we are working with those construction crews to ensure they are receiving the proper training, they know how to follow the markings," said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith.

Because of federal stimulus funding, construction is on the rise all over the Central Valley, but city officials in Fresno and Visalia say gas line accidents are not necessarily increasing. But the gas explosion that killed seven in San Bruno two weeks ago has everyone on edge.

"All the contractors and utility companies try to be as careful as they can with that, knowing it's a risk," said city of Visalia engineering services manager Adam Ennis. "Most of the time it's unusual conditions when it does happen."

Action News tried to reach Technicon contractors for comment, but got no response. Investigations are underway in both of the gas leaks. If the private contractors are found at fault, they'll have to pay for any damages.

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