CHESTER - A leaking 500-gallon propane tank put a Hancock County neighborhood on alert for six hours Wednesday night, causing authorities to close Harris Road and a section of state Route 8.
Lawrenceville volunteer firefighters responded to a home on Harris Road shortly after 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, when someone reported a strong odor of gas in the area. No one was home at the time. Harris Road connects eastbound U.S. Route 30 to Route 8.
Firefighters determined the source of the odor was a buildup of propane gas in the area caused by a propane tank that had been leaking for several hours, Assistant Fire Chief Jeremy Ober said.
The tank had been filled at about noon Wednesday, he said, but officials still aren't sure what caused the leak - a mechanical failure or human error.
"There was a large concentration of propane in that valley," Ober said. "We had to isolate the incident because it had gone on so long that ice started to build up on the tank, which prevented us from opening the cap on top to try to fix the valve."
Ober said five or six homes and a business were considered in the "hot zone" because they are in a low-lying area. Two homeowners left the area as a precaution while authorities dealt with the emergency.
Ober said the tank was leaking from two different sources, and technicians from Thrifty Propane had to be called to make repairs. The situation dragged on, Ober said, because it took a while for company officials to arrive.
It also took time for the gas to dissipate after the tank was repaired, Ober said.
"We ended up getting a wind as the night went on. After both pieces were fixed and the tank was deemed safe, we gave it about 30 minutes to dissipate," he said.
The Lawrenceville Volunteer Fire Department then assembled a hazardous materials team to make sure there was no propane buildup in the neighboring homes, Ober said. Firefighters used monitoring equipment to take indoor readings of gas levels.
"We worked as quick as we could to get them back in their homes," Ober said.
Hancock County Sheriff's deputies and reserve officers closed Harris Road and the section of Route 8 from Route 30 to County Road 208.
Firefighters from Chester and Newell provided mutual aid. The last unit left at 1:30 a.m. Thursday.
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