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.



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