UPDATE: Gas Leak Repaired; Roads Open, Evacuations Lifted

UPDATE:  According to KRCR, road closures were lifted this a.m. after PG&E repaired the broken gas line at about 7 a,m.

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Thursday p.m.: The first call about the gas leak near Shasta Regional Medical Center Thursday night came from an ambulance crew, shortly after 9 p.m.

“They heard hissing and smelled gas,” said Steve Reilly, battalion chief with the Redding Fire Department, as he worked  from his fire truck command post on East Street, just outside Shasta Regional Medical Center.

Reilly said a road construction excavator inadvertently hit and severed a 3-inch natural gas main at East and Tehama streets, spewing a plume of natural gas in the vicinity of  the hospital.

Fire trucks, police cars and California Highway Patrol vehicles were positioned throughout the area, which extended from Eureka Way to Tehama Street, and Continental Street to beyond East Street. Barricades closed those streets to all traffic except emergency vehicles.

Steve Reilly, Redding Fire Department battalion chief, takes a call regarding the gas leak near Shasta Regional Medical Center late Thursday evening.

Although nearby residents were asked to evacuate the area, the hospital was asked to adhere to a “shelter in place” plan.

Reilly said the decision to not evacuate the hospital was made after weighing the risks versus benefits of such a move. He said the conclusion was it was far safer to keep the patients and personnel within the hospital, rather than to move hundreds of people, many in fragile condition, outdoors at night into a potentially hazardous area.

Fire and hospital personnel and engineers were working together to be on the alert for unsafe gas levels or any potential ignition risks. The helicopter was grounded, and remained on the hospital’s roof.

He said that although Shasta Regional Medical Center’s incoming emergencies were being diverted to Mercy Medical Center, the facility was secure, and continued to operate as normally as possible considering the circumstances.

An automated call system – “the communicator” – notified those who lived or worked within that gas-leak zone, and asked them to evacuate.

Reilly said that primarily, the automated system reaches land-line users, though people who’d made previous arrangements to have their mobile numbers included on the automated list would have also received the call.

Though Reilly said he and his team were doing everything within their powers to mitigate the situation and to ensure public safety, he also expressed a significant level of discomfort with the gas leak, its proximity to the hospital, and uncertainty about how the weather might impact the situation.

By about 11 p.m., the smell of natural gas was detectable, especially as a slight breeze stirred the area at about 2-3 miles an hour, a rate that Reilly said actually worked in emergency crews’ favor, as it helped dissipate the gas.

Weather is a significant concern with gas leaks, Reilly said, because it can negatively impact the situation if  humidity and or wind levels rise too high, making the gas more volatile. In that event, he said the evacuation area would be broadened.

For that reason, the Redding Fire Department maintained contact with the National Weather Service for ongoing “spot” weather forecasts.

While they watch the weather, he said it could many hours before PG&E crews could get on the scene and make the repairs, and the process might require specialized crews from Shasta and even Tehama and Butte counties.

Gerry Gray, deputy fire chief with the Redding Fire Department, used the back of his truck as his on-site work station as he monitored the weather and the evacuation area from his computer. Part of his job is to provide tech support to the fire department’s incident command center.

“We are just monitoring everything and keeping our fingers crossed that the weather cooperates,” he said.

Gerry Gray, Deputy Fire Chief, Redding Fire Department, checks his computer for information about the gas leak near Shasta Regional Medical Center late Thursday night.

He said that although gas leaks are not uncommon – his department typically handles two or three a year – having one so close to a hospital was especially problematic.

“About the only thing that would be worse would be a school,” he said.

A Red Cross representative, Nancy Geer, was also on the scene, and said that U-Prep High School on Eureka Way was being set up as a temporary evacuation center for those who needed a place to stay. A RABA bus was available to shuttle people who lacked transportation to the shelter, which would include cots, beverages and snacks. Geer said that she didn’t expect the shelter to be necessary for more than a few hours, adding that typically, less than 10 percent of evacuees seek shelter in Red Cross centers. Most stay with family and/or friends.

Just within the barricaded area at Placer and East streets, a group of young people sat on a staircase outside a Placer Street tri-plex and smoked and talked. When asked if they’d been asked to evacuate, a young man who declined to give his name said they didn’t have a land line to receive an evacuation call, nor were they asked to leave.

“We’ll just hang out and see what happens, I guess,” he said.

Meanwhile, Reilly was thinking ahead to the next day’s Fourth of July holiday, a time when even more visitors flood downtown Redding, and when thousands converge upon the Civic Auditorium lawn to watch fireworks.

He said that if the hard road closures are still in effect by Friday, he’d need to meet with the Freedom Festival representatives to discuss alternate options.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Tammy Douse says:

    Doni, Thanks for the thorough explanation. Saw the alert on my phone, checked KRCR, found brief info. Saw your posting on facebook and was glad to be able to read your version.

  2. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    I just drove by the area and the streets are still blocked off. The smell of gas was very, very strong.

  3. Avatar Karen C says:

    I wonder if the construction crew checked for location of gas lines before they started digging. Very dangerous situation. Happy no one was hurt….

    On a positive note, this did give our emergency crews good experience, and I hope an educational one for the work crews.

  4. Randall Smith Randall Smith says:

    Esp. Like the smokers watching. KRCR says roads are open and leak stopped.

  5. Avatar Shelly Shively says:

    An ominous sight last night, as I drove north on East St, to be met with road blocks of police cars parked with flashing lights, and police officers standing guard at each block entrance. It wasn’t until I got home & checked FB, that I heard the news. I’m struck by the bravery of those who dedicate their lives for the safety of others, & went to bed with prayers that the gas leak would not blow before it could be repaired. Also prayers for safe covering of all those officers & emergency crews, as well as wisdom & guidance for those called upon to repair the ruptured gas line.
    I put my flag out this morning in celebration of Fourth of July Independence Day, I’m thankful for our great nation & the freedoms we have because of personal sacrifice made by those committed to the well-being of others, as evidenced by this situation downtown. Hope you all have a safe & happy 4th today, on United States of America’s birthday.

  6. Avatar david kerr says:

    As shown by this story, Redding does not need the financially troubled Record Searchlight. If it became a weekly to distribute ad circulars to the less than 20% of people who subscribe (of those who shop in Reddings as their major retail center) KRCR could expand its website to become the news source for most people in the region. The KRCR website could offer a rich selection of photographs.

    • Avatar cheyenne says:

      Good point about the RS. The article about the jet skiers appeared here first and then on the RS, as one commentor posted the RS did not even mention anews as the first to have the article.
      I no longer subscribe to RS because they are not individual anymore, they use the home company format of which many of the exact same articles appear in my Cheyenne paper as well as the Denver and Phoenix papers.
      The Seattle Times has remained an independent local paper and I hope anewscafe will keep its independent format as well.
      Good job, Doni. I used to read and enjoy your column in the RS for years and I am glad you started anews as it does a better job of informing me about the area I lived in for forty years.

  7. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    I recently bought a tablet and decided to take a one-month subscription to the RS just to see what it’s like to have a “newspaper” with breakfast. I stopped my paper subscription after Doni left the paper and wanted to see if it’s progressed after all these years. What a joke! It’s difficult to navigate (could be my own ineptness), has tons of pop-ups, and the columns are very narrow to make room for a bunch of advertising. Subscribing was a $5 lesson learned.

  8. Avatar Breakfast Guy says:

    Doni,
    You did a great job covering the gas leak story and getting it posted quickly. Nice work!