Menlo Park: Gas leak ignites and melts water main in Sharon Heights


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.


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5 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 7, 2016 at 1:29 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Congrats to the neighbor and the Rosewood for taking in people who need shelter.

3 people like this
Posted by PlzChimeIn
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Dec 7, 2016 at 1:49 pm

After the tragedy in San Bruno, does anyone else feel deeply disturbed hearing about this "unknown" gas leak that was ignited in addition to the amount of time it took to turn it off, or does this kind of thing happen routinely? The article makes it sound like if it were not for the ignition of this "unknown" gas leak resulting in flames identifying its location, then they would have had a hard time finding it, but obviously they would have had to have known there was a gas leak in the first place...
Anyone else concerned about PG&E's ability to keep us safe, or am
I missing something?
Please chime in.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jon Castor
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Dec 7, 2016 at 5:16 pm

Jon Castor is a registered user.

PG&E is using Picarro's gas leak detection technology (Picarro is a local venture based on tech developed at Stanford) to find leaks like this. Not clear if they've surveyed the Sharon Heights area yet, though PG&E tout the scope of the program in their PR: Web Link If they haven't surveyed Sharon Heights yet, now's the time. If they have surveyed and this leak wasn't found, why not?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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