Nanaimo school district and RCMP are investigating a broken natural gas line, suspected of being caused by vandalism, that closed École Hammond Bay Elementary School on Wednesday. (Google maps)

Nanaimo school district and RCMP are investigating a broken natural gas line, suspected of being caused by vandalism, that closed École Hammond Bay Elementary School on Wednesday. (Google maps)

Vandals suspected of breaking school gas line

École Hammond Bay Elementary School closed Wednesday due to suspicious gas line break

A natural gas leak that closed École Hammond Bay Elementary School for the day Wednesday was likely caused by vandalism.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue and Fortis B.C. repair crews were called to the school, located on Morningside Drive, at about 7:30 a.m. when staff entering the school smelled gas.

Speaking to the News Bulletin, Dale Burgos, Nanaimo school district spokesman, said staff called 911 immediately.

“No students were inside the school at that time in the morning,” he said.

However, some students were in outlying buildings and were allowed to stay on site until their parents could retrieve them, according to Burgos.

Firefighters used portable ventilation fans along with other equipment brought in by the school district to clear the gas from the building.

“Yes, I can confirm there was evidence the line was compromised,” Burgos said in an e-mailed statement to the News Bulletin.

He explained that it was an outside gas line that was damaged and that it was near an air intake.

“There was other evidence that indicated that an individual or individuals were on site. Those details I won’t share at this time as [police] are still investigating,” he said.

The decision was made to close the school for the day while repairs were made and advise parents about the closure. The school was open for classes again Thursday.

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said no suspects have been identified as of Friday morning.

“Nobody’s been identified, to date, for causing the damage,” O’Brien said. “We’re looking into the damage to the building and we haven’t ruled out vandalism.”

The school incident was one of several natural gas system malfunctions that occurred throughout the week.

On Dec. 11, firefighters were tied up for several hours after a Fortis crew accidentally broke a fitting on an old gas line on the 400 block of Selby Street.

“They were disconnecting service line that was no longer in use, so the fitting from the service line to the gas main just broke and gas was releasing as a result of that,” said Grace Pickell, Fortis B.C. spokeswoman.

A witness told the News Bulletin that the hissing sound of a broken gas line could be heard two blocks away. Pickell said the safest way for Fortis crews to deal with escaping gas is to let it vent into the atmosphere and dissipate.

“So people may hear the hissing that you mentioned, but we’re letting it release, free and clear. It is the safest situation,” she said.

Pickell said Fortis crews determined if any nearby buildings should be evacuated and then went about isolating the location of the leak. All told, the incident lasted about five hours from the time the fitting broke at about 2 p.m. until the repair was completed at about 7 p.m.

The incident resulted in a nearby daycare to self-evacuate, according to Karen Fry, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief.

Then on Dec. 14, shortly before 11 a.m., firefighters and Fortis crews responded to a construction site on the 3500 block of Planta Road when an eight-centimetre diameter gas supply main was ruptured by an excavating machine.

No injuries were reported but Planta Road was temporarily closed to traffic. An estimated 12 nearby residents were asked to remain in their homes until the line could be repaired by crews. Repairs were completed in about an hour.

Gas line and equipment failures are due to a number of causes that can include damage cause by vehicle impacts, excavation work and age deterioration.

Fortis records list 24 damages to natural gas lines in Nanaimo for 2016 and there have been 19 incidents for 2017. Those figures are for Fortis equipment only and do not include damage incidents to systems owned by customers, as was the case with École Hammond Bay Elementary School.

Pickell said about 90 per cent of incidents are preventable, which is why it is important to call Fortis B.C. or visit the company website to obtain information about the locations of natural gas lines and other underground utilities.

For more information, call toll free to 1-800-474-6886 or visit www.bconecall.bc.ca.



photos@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
AUDIO: Interview with broadcaster and Island resident Terry David Mulligan

PQBeat podcast asks Nanoose Bay resident about radio and TV career, wine and more

Paige Karczynski is the new executive director of Nanaimo Community Hospice Society. (Photo submitted)
New executive director leading Nanaimo hospice at a time when grief counselling is greatly needed

Paige Karczynski takes over as Nanaimo Community Hospice Society begins its 40th year

The site of the former Arrowview Hotel, on Second Avenue and Athol Street, as of Jan. 14, 2020. (Elena Rardon/Black Press)
Port Alberni pressures owner of demolished hotel, Lantzville’s Pottie, for final cleanup

Demolition finished in June 2020 but site still full of construction material

Letter writers weigh in on the City of Nanaimo adopting ‘doughnut’ economics as a guiding principle for decision-making.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: City of Nanaimo’s ‘doughnut’ has to be more than empty calories

Letter writers react to city council’s recent decision to adopt ‘doughnut’ economic model

Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization, a non-profit, seeks to raise $8,000 for a play structure to help children remain active during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization asking for help fundraising for play structure

Physical activities have been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, says non-profit

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Incident happened at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

Jackie Hildering, whale researcher with the Marine Education and Research Society, and Nanaimo Area Land Trust will present the Return of Giants, a webinar about the humpback whales’ return from the brink of extinction and how boaters can help protect them. (Jackie Hildering/MERS photo taken under Marine Mammal License MML-42)
‘Return of the Giants:’ B.C. getting a second chance to coexist with humpback whales

‘Marine Detective’ partners with Nanaimo stewardship group on webinar

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Cyclists pick up swag and cycling trail maps at city Bike to Work Week ‘celebration station’ a few years ago. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo’s active transportation plan will be about more than infrastructure

City working on goals to double walking trips and quintuple cycling and busing trips

Nanaimo RCMP seek public assistance after numerous tire slashings between Jan. 12-14. (News Bulletin file)
20 tires punctured in ‘slashing spree’ in Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP ask for any tips about Jan. 12-14 incidents in Country Club and Boxwood areas

Most Read