Rifle elementary schools, assisted living center evacuated due to ‘over-odorized’ gas detection

Highland Elementary School in Rifle.
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Two Rifle elementary schools and an assisted living center were evacuated due to what’s being called an over-odorized gas detection. The detection poses no threat to the public, city officials confirmed.

Highland and Grand Mesa elementary schools were evacuated Thursday. Meanwhile, residents of the Chateau At Rifle assisted living center were also temporarily removed. 

Staff, students and residents of all buildings have since returned.

According to Garfield Re-2 Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton, the evacuations happened after too much mercaptan, a foul-smelling methanethiol gas, was in the natural gas system.

“Staff reported a smell of natural gas,” Hamilton said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we evacuated.”

The schools are serviced by Xcel Energy. Hamilton said mercaptan was over-odrized at one of Xcel’s distribution plants.

This is the second issue the school district has experienced with Xcel in one week. The school day for Rifle High School on Monday was canceled after Xcel installed a faulty gas meter.

“We think we didn’t have enough pressure to run all the systems,” Hamilton said.

Angela Mills, Rifle Police Department’s public information officer, said the department received several calls this morning over the detection of the odor.

Rifle City Manager Tommy Klein said the Colorado River Fire Rescue district checked every location and concluded no elevated amounts of natural gas were detected.

“I think it was the odorizing that caused people concern and rightfully so,” he said. They did the right thing. When you smell natural gas, you should evacuate the building.”

Xcel Energy Media Relations Rep. Michelle Aguayo said a back-pressure regulator was not installed, which caused an extremely high odor in the area.

“Crews have been out there all afternoon. We brought in flaring trucks to burn off the gas to get the odorant back to normal levels,” she said.

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