Gas leak leads to evacuation

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Approximately 15 residents from homes along Tipton Street were evacuated Friday morning when a cracked natural gas line beneath a house created a potentially explosive situation for public safety workers and residents in this east Elizabethton neighborhood.
   Elizabethton Fire Department crews responded to 813 Tipton Street shortly before 11 a.m. in response to a cracked natural gas line in the basement of the residence. They found leaking natural gas and no way to shut it off.
   "There was no cut off, that is what was so bad," said Jim Hartley, deputy fire chief with the Elizabethton Fire Department. "This one didn't have a meter, it just had a hot line."
   The gas line's age and lack of an accessible valve to turn off gas coming into the house created a tense situation for firefighters and employees of Atmos Energy who responded to control the leak. The gas line entered the residence beneath the rear yard of the residence, Hartley said.
   A palpable odor of gas could be smelled up to one block away from the residence. "Since I quit smoking I can really smell it now," said John Nichols, a Tipton Street resident who was evacuated from his residence shortly after firefighters arrived on the scene.
   Linemen with the Elizabethton Electric System shut off electricity along the street while Elizabethton Police set up a perimeter around the neighborhood. "We were trying to keep every ignition source possible out of here," said Hartley.
   To contain the leak, firefighters outfitted an Atmos employee in turnout gear and ventilator to enter the basement. Hartley said firefighters tethered a safety line to the employee, who entered the basement and sealed off the gas line.
   Hartley said had the gas been ignited, the blast would have likely destroyed at least two homes adjacent to the address. "We would've had no way to put it out," he said.
   He said the gas line appears to have ruptured while the homeowner and a relative were working in the basement, according to the homeowner. Neither firefighters nor residents required medical treatment for exposure to the gas fumes, according to Hartley.