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Propane Leaks Still Affecting Serene Lakes Community

May 27, 2011

Truckee Fire Protection District and Placer County Environmental Health are still working to ensure that all properties in the Serene Lakes community affected by leaking propane systems are cleaned up. Several properties remain unabated however, so the Incident Command team left in place the Voluntary Evacuation Order.

Since March, there have been 42 properties affected by propane in the Donner Summit community that have leaked from storage tanks and the plumbing that connects the tanks to houses. Three active sites remain; the rest have been mitigated.

The “voluntary” evacuation order underscores the inability of public safety agencies to guarantee that the area is absolutely safe from any ill effects of propane. The area cannot be declared “safe” until all of the snow in the Serene Lakes area has melted or additional monitoring is completed showing that there are no hazardous concentrations of propane left near the leak sites. The cooperation of property owners at properties where hazardous levels of propane have been found is tantamount in getting these areas declared safe.

Passive dissipation (i.e., natural evaporation of propane) can be effective, however it comes at the expense of a safe environment for neighbors. Propane and gas systems (tanks, regulators and piping) still buried in the snow may hide potential leaks. Property owners need to ensure the safety of their properties by clearing snow from around their propane systems. Mitigation procedures outlined by Placer County Environmental Health will provide details.

While the voluntary evacuation order has served its purpose in limiting unnecessary travel into and throughout Serene Lakes, it has also helped to ensure that no lives have been lost in what has been a potentially volatile situation. A changeable message sign indicating the evacuation order remains in place has been reposted on Soda Springs Road.

It is still permissible to travel into and throughout Serene Lakes. Anyone so doing should be alert to the smell of propane, and, if it is detected, should move back to a safe distance and call 911. Power, gas, cable and phone company crews are once again working in Serene Lakes to restore service and troubleshoot individual issues, but they too are exercising caution as they approach work areas.

Extraordinary snowpack this season has created the leaks when the weight of dozens of feet of snow and ice broke plumbing between tanks and houses. Two other homes in other areas of eastern Placer County were also affected by leaking propane, however, those sites have been remediated.

There may still be undiscovered leaks in the Serene Lakes area. Even in areas where the propane systems are exposed, it is possible for propane to be trapped under the snow. As propane is heavier than air, it will follow a path of least resistance, and can travel long distances under crusted snow.

For a map of the active and abated propane leak sites in the Serene Lakes community, click this link:

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