For the second day in a week, Pierre firefighters have blocked off a residential area because of a natural gas leak.
According to Spokesman Mark Hanson of Montana Dakota Utilities — the company that provides the area with its natural gas — workers from a boring contractor were digging on the 400 block of Ree Street on Thursday, June 20, when they punctured a gas line with their boring machine. The gas quickly — and audibly — started erupting into the air. Natural gas is highly flammable.
Shortly before 2 p.m., Pierre firefighters blocked off the intersections of East Dakota Avenue and Ree Street, and Ree Street and Missouri Avenue, about two blocks from the city’s outdoor swimming pool in Griffin Park.
“It’s just a precaution,” Fire Engine Four Captain Zach Merrill said. “So long as there’s no source of ignition, it’s not really dangerous... that’s what we were trying to do, trying to eliminate any source of ignition.”
As a further precautionary measure, the Fire Department and Pierre Police also evacuated residents in nearby homes on Ree Street and Missouri Avenue, Rescue Captain Brandon McCarthy said.
“They came and knocked on the doors; said the contractors had hit the gas lines,” Ree Street resident Drew Lawrence said. “They said it would be about 45 minutes to two hours [to fix].”
Lawrence decided to spend that time with his children at the city pool, which was not evacuated. McCarthy said that the pool was too far away to be in any danger.
About 2:30 p.m., Fire Chief Ian Paul announced over dispatch radio that the gas had been shut off in the area and ordered that several homes be checked to see if there was anyone there.
Fifteen minutes later, the Fire Department called the all clear and departed the scene. No one was injured nor any property damaged. By 3 p.m., construction workers and Montana Dakota Utilities representatives continued to repair the broken gas line.
A spokesman from the company that had accidentally punctured the gas line, who offered comment on condition of anonymity, said the workers were unaware of where the underground gas line was because it had never been “located.”
“Locating” is a procedure in which underground utility infrastructure is located and marked before any digging or construction work begins. Though the spokesman said the company was putting in power lines for the city, he said the city does not usually provide any locating services for contractors.
“Each utility has to do their own locating or hire someone to do it for them,” he said. “We don’t do the locate, usually it’s done by the time we get there... This one wasn’t.”
He did not comment on why the company did not wait for locate procedures to be carried out before workers began digging.
At 3:15 p.m., Mark Hanson announced that the repairs were complete. No one lost any gas service because of the break.
“Montana-Dakota Utilities tech stopped the flow of gas within an hour of getting the call; repairs are complete,” Hanson said in an email to the Capital Journal. “It was a vacant stub so no customers were affected.”
While the incident ended without any injury or property damage done, Merrill said it was still surprising that two separate gas leaks occurred in the same week.
“We get about a half dozen of these over the course of the year,” Merrill said. “Mostly in the summer.... That is pretty uncommon; you don’t get two in one week very often.”
Capital Journal Reporter Stephen Lee contributed to this story.