Gas leak cripples Donner Pass Road businesses |

Gas leak cripples Donner Pass Road businesses

Photo by Renee ShadforthFirefighters responded to the initial leak on Thursday.

When employees at Dairy Queen were first told to evacuate the restaurant, they called restaurant-owner Mark Sterns.

“I said, ‘I love your commitment, but don’t call me. Leave,” he said after a briefing Wednesday on a propane leak originating from the Amerigas propane station.

So far Stearns’ business has been closed for six days because of propane concentrations in the area, which spiked Wednesday, almost a week after the leak was detected.

“[The propane reading] was at three to five percent yesterday and now they tell me I’m up off the charts on day seven,” Stearns said.

Although a control and cleanup plan has been devised, officials will periodically shut down Donner Pass Road and may ask more businesses to shut down in the next week.

Until the situation is under control and all propane has dissipated, Sterns will store the ice cream from Dairy Queen at Albertsons. Southwest Gas will not turn his natural gas back on until all propane readings are at zero.

As of yet officials have not determined the exact amount of propane that leaked from an underground pipe on the Amerigas property, but company estimates run as high as 3,600 gallons.

Donner Pass Road was first closed around noon on Thursday when the fire department received a call about the leak. It was reopened 10 p.m. that night.

Businesses surrounding Amerigas were evacuated on Thursday. Although some operations returned to normal on Friday, others, like Dairy Queen and Granite Chief, were still closed Wednesday.

Local and county agencies, including the Truckee Fire District, Truckee Police Department, Nevada County Environmental Health and the town, have been extremely careful.

“Propane is heavier than air, so it travels in the same manner that water would,” said Gene Welch of the Truckee Fire District.

Changes in temperature can also affect the size of the propane “flume” – the area where the gas is concentrated. The soil structure and underground utility lines can also add to the uncertainty of the situation.

The safest and fastest way to handle a propane leak is to let the propane dissipate slowly from the ground, while not allowing the “hot zone” to expand much larger than it already is, said Fire Chief Mike Terwilliger.

Wednesday morning crews began ripping up asphalt in the Amerigas parking lot to allow the gas surrounding the pipe to dissipate.

“The levels have climbed, which is good because it’s getting out and getting away,” said Greg Scyphers, an environmental chemist and general manager of H20 Environmental in Sparks.

Officials have not disclosed when they expect the cleanup to be complete.

Beside the danger of ignition, Janet Mann with Nevada County Environmental Health said there may be problems with ground water.

“As this evolves and we determine how much product is in the ground… this could spread and we may ask the schools and the Safeway complex [to close],” Terwilliger said, asking business owners for patience with the cleanup process.

For updates on the gas leak and information about road or business closures, contact Alex Terrazas with the Town of Truckee at 582-7700 or 308-0607. Police dispatch will also have updates. You can call them at 550-2320.

For local school closure updates related to the Donner Pass Road gas leak, please go to .

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