Runaway propane tank forces evacuation |

Runaway propane tank forces evacuation

Naomi Havlen

Residents of approximately 15 homes near Redstone were evacuated last night when a propane tank rolled away from a home, leaking its contents into the air.The tank, which held around 1,000 gallons of gas used for heating a home in the Redstone Ranch Acres subdivision, was sitting on wooden supports that had rotted. The supports gave way around 3:30 p.m., allowing the tank to break free of its piping to the home on Bobcat Lane. It then rolled down a hillside and came to rest next to a road.According to Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Mario Strobl, the tank landed on top of its valve head. So until a backhoe arrived at around 7:30 p.m. to lift the tank, the open valve was leaking gas.Propane is very combustible, Strobl said, and shouldn’t be breathed in high concentrations. According to the 2004 Emergency Response Guidebook from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the gas vapors may cause dizziness or asphyxiation without warning, and if a cylinder of the gas is ruptured, the gas may escape so quickly that the container becomes a projectile.When Strobl arrived on scene at about 4:30 p.m. he could smell the rotten-egg scent of the gas. Although he was unsure how much of the gas actually leaked into the atmosphere, county officials decided to ask neighbors to leave their homes by using its reverse-911 emergency evacuation system.The relatively new system automatically calls residences in a certain area in case of an emergency, such as a wildfire. Strobl and another deputy also went door-to-door to make sure people were aware of the situation.Because propane is a heavy gas that sinks, residents were warned to close windows and vents in crawl spaces and basements. Emergency workers wanted to minimize any chance of igniting the gas from a fire source, such as a pilot light in a basement furnace.All but two people in the 15 homes Strobl approached agreed to leave – there is no law that says that you must evacuate your home. Most evacuees headed to the Redstone Inn.Nancy Chromy, who works at the front desk of the Redstone Inn, said around 20 or 25 evacuees from the nearby neighborhood spent a couple of hours there until they were allowed back home.”It was serious business. Nobody took this as a joke – it was the real thing,” she said. “Some people had a bit to eat, some had cocktails in the lounge. This is such a small community that everyone is pretty much considered a local person.”Chromy said the Redstone Inn also got a call from the county’s reverse-911 system at around 5:45 p.m. The Inn is at least a mile away from where the accident occurred, and Chromy discovered through subsequent phone calls that they didn’t need to evacuate.”The phone call started out with ‘This is a Pitkin County emergency evacuation notice,’ and it really takes you off guard when you’ve never heard it before,” she said.The Carbondale Fire Department handled the incident along with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. Ferrellgas, a retail propane company, was also present to close the broken valve once the tank had been turned over.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is

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