A number of Langford residents were evacuated from their homes this morning after a contractor accidentally cracked open a natural gas main on Loma Linda Drive in the Happy Valley area.
The roar of venting natural gas could be heard far and wide for more than two-and-a-half hours as FortisBC crews dug two holes in Happy Valley Road to crimp the six-inch diameter line.
Resident Dennis Dyck was enjoying a coffee in his backyard when he heard what to him sounded like a torn air compressor hose. “The sound was amazingly loud,” he said while waiting in his truck with dogs Pepper and Lilly, a few blocks from his house.
Langford fire Chief Bob Beckett confirmed a backhoe operator hit the gas line at 9 a.m. while while digging into Loma Linda Drive for the installation of a larger water line. “The operator wasn’t aware the gas line was in this location, according to his plans,” Beckett said.
FortisBC spokesperson Marcus Wong couldn’t say if there are discrepancies between the gas line map and gas lines in the ground in this case, but stressed the company provides detailed maps to the public.
“When it comes to maps we have a proven track record, we have very accurate maps,” he said. Wong said the company doesn’t mark gas line locations on the roadway prior to roadwork.
A different contractor broke open a smaller natural gas line earlier this week on the other side of Loma Linda. Beckett said two breaks near the same location is a concern and WorksafeBC and Langford engineering are working with FortisBC and the contractor.
Anyone digging into the ground is recommended to call the “BC OneCall” service to obtain maps for any underground utility, Wong said, and any contractor should hand dig until they find the utility line.
Dyck, who used to operate an excavator himself, said he witnessed the contractor hand digging the trench in search of gas lines.
Happy Valley Road was closed for most of the morning and early afternoon from Klahanie Drive into Metchosin, as Fortis crews worked to shut down the leak. A few residents and a day care were evacuated as a precaution, but Beckett said risk of explosion was limited.
The risk of igniting natural gas could happen from a cigarette, a spark or static electricity, but the the fuel is lighter than air and dissipates quickly into the atmosphere.
“It sounded like a jet engine going off. It’s was a lot of high pressure, a lot of gas being released into the atmosphere,” Beckett said. “There is a risk, but under these conditions, being a six-inch (pipe), had there been a source of ignition, the flames would have gone directly into the sky.”