An excavation contractor hit a gas line and caused a major leak in Quesnel, B.C., after receiving inaccurate information from Fortis when a call was made to find out the location of their underground utilities.
“A contractor was undertaking some construction work around our system,” said Joyce Wagenaar, spokeswoman for FortisBC. “They did exactly what they were supposed to do, which involved contacting BC OneCall and Fortis provided maps. There was a one and a half inch pipe that was not present on our map. It was an old piece of pipe from a building that was there in the 1950s.”
Despite calling BC One Call, the contractor hit an abandoned gas line at a construction site at the corner of St. Laurent Avenue and Reid Street in downtown Quesnel at 2:40 p.m. on July 29.
Twelve blocks had to be evacuated including homes, a seniors’ residence and businesses.
In response, Fortis sent a technician to the site to work with emergency responders. Then a crew came to repair the damage.
“We have removed the pipe and surveyed the surrounding area, so the crew can continue to have confidence in the system,” said Wagenaar. “This is a rare occasion, because maps have a high degree of accuracy, but this map did not have the abandoned pipe on it.”
No one was injured in Monday’s incident, but a debriefing session was held on July 31 with key stakeholders, including the police, fire department and the contractor, to review the response to the natural gas leak.
“We are confident that the situation was handled extremely well by those involved,” said Quesnel’s director of emergency services Sylvain Gauthier.
“And, we acknowledge that there are always ways to improve existing procedures. That was the main purpose of the debriefing session.”
A call was immediately made to 911 to dispatch fire, police and ambulance to the scene and evacuation of the surrounding area promptly ensued,” said a City of Quesnel press release. “Within minutes a twelve-block area was secured. Neighbouring businesses and residents were asked to leave the area.”
In addition, an emergency reception center was set up at the Quesnel & District Arts and Recreation Centre for anyone evacuated as a result of the incident.
The gas leak had been isolated and those evacuated were advised that they could return to the area by 6 p.m.
It was noted that the contractor followed all necessary requirements prior to the excavation.
In 1997, six people were killed and 20 were injured in an explosion at a thrift store in Quesnel that was caused by a buildup of gas.
FortisBC said that in the 1997 incident, shifting soil caused damage to a gas line that wasn’t immediately detected, which allowed the gas to buildup.