Potential propane disaster in Delleker prevented

Fire responders work to clean up a leaking propane tank in Delleker on Monday afternoon. The dangerous process called for a power outage in the Eastern Plumas area around 12:20 Monday afternoon. Photo by Carolyn Carter
Carolyn Carter
Staff Writer

  On Monday, Nov. 19, residents of Portola and Delleker were faced with a powerless afternoon. The outage was a result of a propane leak in Delleker, and around noon all power on the north side of the Feather River was shut off.

  A Bi-State propane truck sprang a leak off of Bella Vista Drive and Cuesta Way while filling up a tank in the neighborhood.

  According to Plumas Office of Emergency Services Director Jerry Sipe, the 2,800-gallon truck suffered either a valve or pipe malfunction and began leaking. Sipe said because the leak was at the bottom of the tank it began leaking liquid propane.

  In its raw form propane is liquid, but as soon as it hits atmospheric pressure it turns into a cloudy gas that hovers because it is heavier than air.

  Sipe said it is very dangerous because the propane will expand and travel into any enclosed area instead of being absorbed into the atmosphere. This makes it very susceptible for fires and explosions.

  Local resident Scott Buckelew was at his parents’ house when the accident occurred. He said the Bi-State driver was filling up the next-door neighbor’s house when he realized his truck was malfunctioning.

  Buckelew said the driver began knocking on doors telling residents of the situation and asking them to shut off their pilot lights and leave the area. The Portola Fire Department was also called.

  “Jimmy, the driver, absolutely did a great job in his responsibility (in) all of this,” Buckelew said.

  The Portola and Delleker volunteer fire department immediately responded along with the sheriff’s department and California Highway Patrol. They closed off Delleker Road and called Liberty Energy and asked that the power be shut off in the whole area.

  The fire department issued an evacuation of the area, and Sipe coordinated with the city to provide a safe house at the Veterans Memorial Hall for the evacuees.

  The county’s hazardous materials response team (hazmat) out of Quincy also worked with the fire department to contain and clean up the propane.

  Sipe said after spraying the vapor with water and foam, the area was stable enough to approach the truck and patch the leak with a wet rag that froze as soon as it contacted the propane.

  According to Sipe, there was an estimated 1,800 gallons of propane in the truck at the time and only about 100 gallons leaked out before being patched.

  When the leak was stopped, Bi-Sate took the truck away to be inspected and repaired.

  Around 4 p.m. the power was turned back on to the 35 houses in the area and the residents were allowed to return home.

  “The fire department and hazmat team did a great job,” Sipe said. “They were well-trained and prepared to handle it.”

  The emergency personnel spent four hours combating the propane while preventing any harm to the neighborhood.

  “Everybody did an excellent job,” Buckelew said. “It’s good to know they know what they’re doing in situations like this.”

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