Gas company plugs leak, but shuts off line

Jacksonville Fire-Rescue: Gas fumes cleared from Pilkington, USA business

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After working all day Tuesday trying and fix a natural gas leak that spread fumes across downtown, Teco People's Gas managed to plug the leak at 5:15 p.m. But the company had to shut down gas to the line -- and all the customers it serves.

"It's a 10-inch line running up and down Davis Street, so it could be a sizable area, but I don't know now many customers will be affected by it," said Jacksonville Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Andy White just before 5 p.m.

Teco said about a dozen customers will be without gas service until final repairs are made Wednesday morning.

The Salvation Army center that serves Jacksonville's homeless is right next to where the line sprang a leak, and they will lose gas for cooking. 

JFRD said the gas line with low pressure originally had a small leak. Just after 8 a.m., Teco crews began pulling up parts of North Davis Street to find out where the leak was located, but just before noon the leak expanded and vapors could be seen flowing out of a hole in the pavement in the LaVilla neighborhood just north of the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

"When they started to try to find the leak they unearthed it and it got worse," White said. "I can't tell why it got so much worse, either a coupling blew or something like that."

That sent workers scrambling and the fire department into action. The high-pressure gas line was spewing fumes that could be smelled all around downtown and the Southbank. The fire department stressed that the fumes never posed a health risk to people who smelled them.

The only concern was directly around the leak where crews and firefighters were working. They said the smell is just a warning device added to the gas lines because gas is odorless.

The area that firefighters called the edge of the safety zone was increased by about 50 feet. Firefighters said that while the gas smell extends well beyond that zone, it is not dangerous and there is no risk to the public outside that parameter.

North Davis between Forsyth and Adams streets were blocked to traffic all day and workers at a neighboring business, Pilkington USA, were told to go home by their employer.

"There was a little bit of gas inside of the building ... it's been cleared," said JFRD District Fire Chief Robin Gainey.

Firefighters were standing by as a precaution as gas company workers attempted repairs.

"It could catch fire. It could. Explosion is the technical term," White said. "It would be like an explosion if you had the source of ignition get near that gas, and it could light off and cause a real problem."

As for businesses affected, such as The Salvation Army, they have plans in place if this ever was to happen again in the future. 

"Just in case of any emergency, we always have a contingency plan. And we have another location that's less than a mile nearby but we did not anticipate needing  that under these circumstances," said Stephanie Cain, director of development. 

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