Gas leak hits Two Creeks |

Gas leak hits Two Creeks

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of residents and employees on the east side of Snowmass Village were evacuated yesterday after a valve failure released natural gas throughout three neighborhoods.

A house fire in the Two Creeks neighborhood started around 3:20 p.m., and calls from residents reporting a strong odor of natural gas soon followed. The gas leak is suspected to be the cause of the fire, but Snowmass Village Police Chief Art Smythe said investigators have yet to determine the definitive cause.

“It would not be for me to speculate on [the cause] now, but I think it’s a possibility,” Smythe said of the leak.

The home, located at 115 Blue Spruce Drive and owned by Richard Shenk, was extensively damaged by the fire.

The affected neighborhoods include Two Creeks, The Pines and the area around the Snowmass Club. Each faced a different level of evacuation. In Two Creeks, residents and visitors staying in slopeside homes were turned away by Snowmass Village police and Pitkin County deputies.

“You’re trapped out of your home, but you’re in paradise ” so who gives a damn?” said Mike Reynolds, a Philadelphia resident staying at his sister’s place in Two Creeks.

The sheriff’s deputy who barred Reynolds and his daughter, Victoria, from entering the neighborhood loaned them his cell phone so they could connect with family and friends. After the call, Reynolds turned around and went to the Snowmass Village mall to wait the evacuation out.

At the Snowmass Club, police were letting people into the neighborhood with strict instructions to stay outside once they got to their homes.

At The Pines, people were simply being warned of the danger. “I’m telling people they can go in, but that I wouldn’t if I were them,” said a deputy manning the entrance.

Les Meyer, spokesman for gas provider Kinder Morgan, confirmed that the gas main became overpressurized. “But we don’t know what caused it ” human failure or equipment failure,” he said.

Gas was not actually leaking into most or all of the 200 to 300 affected homes and businesses. Rather, the spike in pressure forced relief valves outside the buildings to open up. But so much gas was leaking that it apparently made its way into people’s homes.

“We had relief valves blowing all over the area, so we took the precaution of shutting down the system,” Meyer said.

Kinder Morgan technicians from throughout the area were dispatched to restore service, a process that requires identifying the cause of the problem, turning every meter in the affected area off, testing the system and finally going door to door to relight the pilot lights.

The company gave no indication of when that task might be finished. Police Chief Smythe said his officers would assist Kinder Morgan in gaining access to houses that aren’t occupied.

Snowmass Club membership director Kristin Everhart said evacuation of the private health and residence club started as soon as the gas was noticed.

Evacuees went to the conference center and cross country and fairway centers, where Smokin’ Joe, a musician slated to play at the club, performed for the displaced clubbers.

“It was quite the evacuation scene,” Everhart said.

Messages were left in all of the occupied units alerting residents that their heat and hot water would remain off indefinitely. Because they were forced to open the windows and doors to let the gas out of the building, there isn’t much heat inside.

Everhart expects the hot water in the building’s tanks to last until sometime tomorrow morning.

The message advises people to keep their blinds shut and call for extra blankets if needed, a front desk clerk at the club said.

The clerk reported at 7:30 p.m. that the smell of gas “is still looming here at the front desk.”