Downtown Fresno gas leak prompts evacuations

FRESNO, Calif.

The accident happened around 10:30 a.m. on G Street near Divisadero Street -- just yards from our studio at ABC30. Firefighters say it was good thing Monday was windy because those gusts helped dissipate some of the natural gas leaking from the line, making it less likely to ignite. They say it all started when an employee of Emmett's Excavation punctured a 4-inch line while digging to install a new waterline for the city of Fresno.

Nearly 100 people were cleared from two state parole offices, an Internal Revenue Service building and White Bear Transportation Company in Downtown Fresno when the employee of the contractor hit a high-pressure distribution line, causing gas to leak at a rapid rate.

"We evacuate structures one because if people start smelling gas they get worried, so we're trying to mitigate that," said Fresno Fire Department spokesperson Koby Johns. "Also it limits how many ignition potential items there are anything from cellphones, to cigarettes, to people's cars."

While police blocked off about a quarter mile of G Street between Stanislaus and Divisadero, hazmat crews monitored the atmosphere, setting up devices around the perimeter of the hole to measure the flammability of the gas.

"Any time we have a large major gas leak, it has the potential to seek out an ignition source and then cause an explosion or fire," said Steve Byers with the Fresno Fire Department.

Pacific Gas & Electric company spokesman Denny Boyles says the contractor did the right thing by contacting the energy company before digging. But unfortunately, the worker began drilling toward the line using power tools instead of finding it first with a hand shovel.

"The contractor had called 811 and the mark and locate crew had come out. Unfortunately, they didn't take the next step of hand digging down and exposing the line before they used the excavator. That's how it ended up being hit," said Boyles.

Officials ordered everyone out of the parole offices because they were in the immediate area, but said workers at the IRS left voluntarily.

"I think about an hour and a half is what it took to expose the rest of the line, and get it squeezed off and stop the release," said Johns.

They say the company could be held liable for the cost of the large-scale response. After the line was capped off, the fire department says it went inside the affected buildings to determine they were safe to be inside. And police reopened the road to two-way traffic.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.