Stettler Regional Fire and Rescue responded to a nicked gas line last week in Rochon Sands, the fourth one since the start of the year – and now the fire department is asking people to call ahead and be careful.
“Hit lines do happen,” Deputy Fire Chief Etienne Brugman said. “People forget to call One Call, or they’ve called One Call and they’ve managed to hit the line anyway.”
One Call is a company that will send people out to detect underground lines – natural gas, phone, water and sewer, and any other underground risks. However, they can only mark the area the line is found in, not how deep and not if the line runs absolutely straight, Brugman noted.
“Lines aren’t always straight between (One Call’s) markers,” he explained, adding that sometimes lines will bend a little here and there as it gets around a rock, or as settling ground pushes it to the side a little.
Hitting a gas line can cause a flash fire, where the friction of the shovel or machinery hitting the line itself causes enough heat to ignite the gas. When a leak gives gas enough time to build up, it can cause explosions.
Natural gas is lighter than air, so fortunately doesn’t pool near the break but rises into the air. However, when a leak is near a house this isn’t a good thing, since it can sometimes flow into attics and gather there, unable to escape, waiting for a spark to set it off.
“We’ve fought natural gas-fed fires,” Brugman said. Sometimes the fire is caused by a leak, or sometimes an existing fire melts a line, causing the gas to flow into the fire where it ignites. “You can always tell the look of a natural gas fire.”
When a line breaks, the fire department will come out with someone from the gas company to clamp the line so it can be repaired. When the gas hasn’t ignited, sometimes the fire department will spray water into the area of the leak to help dissipate the gas, but most times it can flow heavenward without causing a problem. The area ends up cordoned off as even a spark from a vehicle’s engine can be enough to cause the gas to light.
When the line has caught on fire, the goal of the fire department is to keep it spreading, but not put out the original fire, Brugman explained.
The fire burns off the gas, so it can’t gather anywhere or be ignited somewhere else, but fire can spread so the firefighters will water down the area.
The most important thing if someone hits a line or smells that rotten egg smell of a gas leak in the home is to immediately evacuate and then phone 911 or the gas company.
The town hasn’t had a bad gas leak fire in Brugman’s time, where an entire house has exploded from accumulated gas, he said. Fire Chief Mark Dennis said nothing of that sort had happened during his tenure, either.
The presence of mercaptin, the ingredient that gives natural gas that eggy smell, is part of that, Brugman said.
“The nice thing about mercaptin is you smell it fast, before gas really has a chance to accumulate,” he explained.
If you’re going to be doing any digging, phone Alberta One-Call to have a representative come out to check for power, gas, oil, water and sewer lines by phoning 1-800-242-3447 or visiting www.albertaonecall.com.