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Serene Lakes Voluntary Evacuation Lifted; New Propane Leaks Still Possible

June 09, 2011

The voluntary evacuation order for the Serene Lakes community was lifted today after clean-up work was done on the last active property known to be affected by a propane leak.

The order was lifted by the Truckee Fire Protection District and Placer County Sheriff’s Office in consultation with the county’s Environmental Health Division and county Office of Emergency Services. The order was put into place about two months ago to encourage property owners to avoid Serene Lakes as much as possible until the propane emergency was resolved.

Officials are reviewing paperwork on the last active property to make sure the cleanup work was done according to the approved workplan.

Emergency officials cautioned the public needs to be aware the potential for new propane leaks still exists.

Since March, 42 properties at Serene Lakes, a community near the Donner Summit, have been affected by propane leaking from the plumbing that connects the tanks to houses. Leaking propane was the likely cause of an April 8 explosion that demolished an unoccupied three-story cabin in Serene Lakes.

Other homes in areas of eastern Placer County also were affected by leaking propane. On April 16, an explosion damaged an unoccupied cabin at Alpine Peaks, a community near the West Shore in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The main causes of the propane leaks are the weight of this year’s extraordinary snowpack and its migration, which in many cases have caused valves, regulators and piping to break and leak.

Emergency officials have encouraged owners of properties not affected by leaks to clear the snow and ice from around propane tanks, regulators and piping. Snow needs to be completely removed- from above, around and below tanks and plumbing and from roofing over the propane systems.

Many Serene Lakes houses and propane systems, however, remain buried under snow, and new leaks may be discovered when snow is removed by property owners or it melts. Serene Lakes cannot be declared safe until all of the snow has melted and no odors of propane are detected.

On Tuesday, the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to end a state of local emergency proclaimed April 8.

The emergency proclamation gave Placer County the authority to issue an abatement order declaring leaking propane tanks a public health threat in Serene Lakes and other communities in eastern Placer County.

The order required owners of properties with leaking propane systems to take abatement actions expeditiously. It authorized Placer County to take abatement actions if property owners failed to do so and to seek reimbursement for its costs from owners.

County Executive Officer Thomas M. Miller told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday the abatement order is no longer needed because the final three active sites were in the process of being cleaned up and property owners have been cooperative.

“The public in Serene Lakes has been very helpful in taking care of this situation, so we don’t feel we need to have the mandatory order to get compliance,” he said. “They really stepped forward to take care of their individual tank problems.”

Fifth District Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, a Serene Lakes resident, thanked Placer Agency departments, the Truckee Fire District and other agencies for their efforts on behalf of her community, saying property owners appreciate how responsive all of the agencies have been.

Everyone who enters Serene Lakes still should be alert for the smell of propane. If they detect propane, they should immediately move to a safe distance of 300 feet and call 9-1-1. They should avoid starting engines, turning on cooking and heating appliances and fans, or using other ignition sources. Flipping on or off a light switch can provide an ignition source.

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