Aspen gas leak leads to evacuations |

Aspen gas leak leads to evacuations

Charles AgarGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN, Colo. Construction crews broke a gas main Saturday morning near Tiehack Road, prompting some 2,800 reverse 911 evacuation calls in a quarter-mile radius, but the leak was stopped without incident.According to officials, construction crews began digging a trench at 8:40 a.m. with a small backhoe along Pfister Road near Tiehack when they broke a three-inch-diameter natural gas line.After the break, the Aspen Volunteer Fire District put out the call for a mass evacuation, including the Maroon Creek Club and the Ritz-Carlton Resort at Aspen Highlands.”The pipe was in the wrong place. It’s supposed to be marked. It wasn’t marked,” said Rigo Ayala of Silt, an employee with Western Colorado Excavating Inc., who was driving the backhoe.Ayala immediately phoned 911. But he wasn’t the only one.”I heard it. I smelled it. I called the police,” said Tom Frampton, a property manager with the homeowner’s association.At the scene, the hiss of the leaking pipe and the smell of gas could be detected from as far away as 80 yards from the leak.Aspen firefighters working with crews from Source Gas, the area gas utility, stopped the leak without incident by 12:30 p.m., and evacuees were told they could return to their homes at 12:43 p.m.Aspen volunteer firefighters and crews from Source Gas used a small backhoe to dig up the pipe about 80 yards from the leak.Using the spray from a fire hose as a fan for the leaking gas fumes, crews crimped the source pipe so they could fix the break. While the natural gas was too thick at the source of the leak to explode, fire officials said the gas can collect in adjacent buildings and become dangerous.”Just one spark can set it off,” said Deputy Fire Chief Rick Balentine.”We do have broken gas lines very often; this one just seemed to be larger,” said Aspen officer Mike Tracey. “The potential for disaster was there, but it was avoided by quick response and a reasonable evacuation order by the fire department.”Aspen volunteer firefighters knocked on the door of Amy Easton, who lives just across the street from where the pipe was leaking. She evacuated her home along with her two dogs.”I did not smell it until I got out on the street,” Easton said.”We got a reverse 911 call at 10 a.m., approximately, and we were told to immediately evacuate the buildings,” said Jim Hooper, director of loss-prevention and security at the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands.Some 140 guests and employees met at a central muster point near the Highlands ski bus stop, Hooper said.”Everybody was accounted for,” Hooper said. And, just as Ritz-Carlton officials were getting ready to load buses for a full evacuation about 10:45 a.m., Aspen police told the residents it was OK to go back to their rooms, Hooper said.Hooper said there was just a “hint of gas” in the air.”There wasn’t a lot of drama here,” said Jim McCuiston, membership executive at Ritz-Carlton. While they asked residents to come out of their residences, “everyone seemed to understand the incident was far away,” he said.”We evacuated for one hour and a half because of the gas leak,” said Nadia Avila, a front-desk agent at the Maroon Creek Club. Despite the fact they did not smell gas, management decided to clear the area, and some 25 guests were out on the street.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is

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