Gas leak clears out block: Broken line leads to evacuation in Kenai

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2010

Emergency officials evacuated part of a Kenai neighborhood on Wednesday after a utility company struck an Enstar line that leaked natural gas for about an hour and a half.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Occupants evacuate a home on Walnut Avenue several houses away from the site of a natural gas line break Wednesday morning. Kenai public safety officials evacuated homes surrounding the leak until crews could turn off the gas.

Enstar and the Kenai Fire Department did not know how much gas leaked in the incident, but Mike Tilly, Kenai's fire chief, said about 10 homes had to be evacuated because they were in the potential blast zone.

No one was injured in the leak, and residents were allowed to return home about two hours after they were told to leave.

City Electric, the company who burst the pipe while installing a phone line, will be billed for the wasted resources, according to Charlie Pierce, Enstar's southern division manager.

City Electric declined comment on Wednesday.

Pierce said the company followed proper pre-excavation protocol but its "trenching blindly" method caused the rupture.

"They were using a pierce tool, shooting a steel piston and boring a line underground. Without exposing all of the other facilities you don't know if you're making contact."

Dispatch toned out the emergency call just before noon on Wednesday after City Electric struck the pipeline on Fir Drive in Kenai's Woodland Subdivision.

When the fire department arrived, the crew monitored the wind to assess where in the neighborhood the gas might spread, according to Tilly. Then firefighters took precautionary action, including evacuating Fir Drive's homes.

"We shut off electricity and utilities to take away any ignition source," Tilly said.

Tilly said natural gas floats upward rather than lining the ground with a flammable coating.

"The situation is as safe as can be right now," Tilly said, while watching Enstar tend to the broken pipe.

Enstar clamped the pipe to stop the leak and will be mending it more permanently in the next couple of days, Pierce said.

"We just squeezed the line off and shut it off, and a repair crew out is there replacing sections of line," Pierce said.

Evacuee Dan Zulkanycz said he thought something was wrong when he heard a strange noise.

"I heard a hissing sound from the back bedroom," Zulkanycz said, after reversing a purple pickup out of his Cedar Street driveway. His wife Lisa sat in the passenger seat with her Yorkshire terriers, Spencer and Sophia, on her lap.

The couple planned to take their dogs for a walk on the beach and take care of a few errands while they waited out the evacuation.

Lisa said she was somewhat worried.

"What if our house blows up? What do we need to take with us?" she said. At the time, the couple wasn't sure how long they would need to be out of their home.

Later, after returning home safely, the smell of gas no longer lingering, Lisa said her fears had dissipated.

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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