by Geoff Fox
Fire crews from around the area were searching around Hancock late Monday night, June 20, for a gas leak after reports of the smell of natural gas in and around homes. After an hour search, crews could not find anything and turned the scene over to Columbia Gas.
According to Hancock Fire Chief Robert Hoopengardner, the call came in at 11:02 p.m. Monday night.
Hoopengardner said crews from Hancock, Berkeley Springs, Great Cacapon, and Little Orleans searched all over town, including Main Street from Church Street to the high school, both Pennsylvania Avenue and Warfordsburg Road to the state line, and a number of side streets for the cause of the odor.
There had been a report of an explosion on social media, however during the investigation, Hoopengardner said no one they talked to reported any explosions.
There were no evacuations during the investigation, the fire chief said, but there were some residence along Pennsylvania Avenue outside when fire crews arrived.
“We metered the area as soon as we arrived and did not get any hazardous readings that would have warranted an evacuation,” Hoopengardner said in an email.
If they had arrived and had any hazardous readings, then there would have been immediate evacuations of the area.
“Thankfully that didn’t have to happen,” he said.
There were also no street closures during the investigation, however as fire crews checked the streets some were blocked by fire apparatus, but not to shut the streets down.
Hoopengardner said Columbia Gas was called immediately on arrival and residences on Pennsylvania Avenue had already called the gas company, “so they were already aware of the situation.”
Gas company representatives were also using meters when they arrived to check the entire area first responders had also received calls about regarding the gas smell.
When first responders first arrived on scene, Hoopengardner said there was a “very strong” odor of Mercaptan, the chemical added to natural gas to give it an odor so it would be detectable without a meter.
After checking the area for over an hour with the fire companies’ meters and the smell dissipating, Hoopengardner said command talked to the Columbia Gas representatives and nothing hazardous being found, the fire departments returned to service.
Columbia Gas, Hoopengardner said, was to continue to monitor the area with the meters they had.
“To my knowledge nothing was found after we left,” Hoopengardner said.
Columbia Gas spokesperson Lee Gierczynski said technicians weren’t able to pinpoint any source for the gas leak smell.
“Columbia Gas technicians responded to several reports of an odor of natural gas late last night, conducted a thorough investigation of the system, and found no leaks or other possible causes for the odor.”
“Regarding mercaptan, because natural gas is colorless and odorless, an odorant known as mercaptan, is added to the natural gas. Mercaptan gives natural gas its distinctive sulfur-like or rotten eggs smell. If customers ever smell natural gas, they should stop what they are doing, leave the area immediately, and from a safe location, call 911 and Columbia Gas at 1-888-460-4332 and wait for crews to arrive,” he advised.
Hoopengardner said crews had a large area that had reported smelling what they thought was a gas smell.
Since natural gas is everywhere in Hancock and a main supply line is located near the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, crews checked all areas and were not able to detect any gas readings anywhere with their meters.
Hoopengardner said even responding units could smell the Mercaptan when they arrived in Hancock with Berkeley Springs Fire Department smelling in on the U.S. 522 Bridge when they were responding to the call on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“When we arrived on scene for the initial call on PA Ave we could smell it there but had no hazardous readings on our gas meters,” Hoopengardner said.
The chief didn’t know what the smell was or where it was coming from, but there were four fire companies and two Columbia Gas representatives searching for over an hour trying to find where the odor was coming from.
Several residents commented on social media that they also detected the smell, and one person said after being outside for 10 minutes, their nose and eyes were irritated from what they believed to be gas in the air.