A break in a small gas line that burned a hole in a large water main led first to shooting flames and then to jets of water on Tuesday evening (Dec. 6) at 300 Sand Hill Circle in Menlo Park.
An electrical worker from Pacific Gas & Electric had been working in a hole in the street when a spark from his activities ignited gas from an unknown leak in a 3/4-inch gas line, according to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.
The electrical worker was not injured, the chief said, thanks to protective clothing he was wearing when the fire got going. Flames shot as high as 6 feet, the chief said.
A PG&E crew shut down the gas supply when they arrived, about 30 minutes after the initial report, the chief said. A crew from the water authority did the same for the water main after about 45 minutes, he said.
Firefighters went door to door and evacuated about 20 residents from the apartment complex potentially threatened by the broken gas line. No one was injured, the chief said.
A homeowner nearby took in about half the residents and the nearby Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel gave shelter to the others, Chief Schapelhouman said. Officers from the Menlo Park Police Department helped in shuttling people to and from the hotel, he said.
"It was really cold out there last night," said the chief, who called the hotel manager asking about shelter possibilities. "We didn't want to surprise them," he said. "I was real happy when they said yes." The hotel made its lounge and lobby available, he said.
Fire in the street
Firefighters learned of a fire "in the street" at 8:22 p.m. and arrived on the scene at about 8:30 p.m., according to a chronology of the incident by Chief Schapelhouman. As a one-alarm fire, the incident drew four engines, a ladder truck and one battalion chief, about 17 people altogether.
They had an advantage in the situation in that the leaking gas was on fire, the chief said. "When it's on fire, you know where it is," he said.
When the fire melted through a six-inch water main, however, the water extinguished the fire but did not close the leak. Firefighters then addressed gas vapors, including listening for the leak and using their noses to detect the vapors. The cold weather meant the vapors stayed close to the ground, the chief said.
They had set up several hose lines charged with water in anticipation of a wider problem, the chief said.
The good news is that the leak did not occur in a large gas main, the chief said.