Rockne Roll/News-Register##McMinnville Fire Department personnel direct traffic through the intersection of NE Fourth and Davis streets following a reported gas leak in the area Tuesday morning. Third and Fourth streets were closed between Davis and Evans for more than an hour while NW Natural and other local agencies investigated the leak.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##McMinnville Fire Department personnel direct traffic through the intersection of NE Fourth and Davis streets following a reported gas leak in the area Tuesday morning. Third and Fourth streets were closed between Davis and Evans for more than an hour while NW Natural and other local agencies investigated the leak.
By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Downtown gas leaks force evacuations

At almost the same time Wednesday morning, a delivery truck struck a Dumpster in an alleyway in downtown Newberg, driving it into a gas line. That triggered a similar leak and action in Newberg’s central business district.

The McMinnville response began when the smell of gas was reported in an alleyway behind Third Street Pizza and accessed from Evans Street, according to Fire Marshal Debbie McDermott.

The odor soon began spreading to other businesses.

“I work in the packing and shipping room,” said Merri Artist employee Julie Maahs. “It’s closest to the alleyway. I was working, and told my boss, ‘I smell gas.’”

By the time she discovered the source of the problem, firefighters were already beginning to arrive.

“I opened the door, because we needed to get some air into the building,” Maahs said. “I went out there, went back in and then saw a fireman, who was telling everyone they had to go.”

The Yamhill Communications Agency received calls from other individuals, reporting the smell of gas, too.

Police officers and and gas company employees soon joined firefighters at the scene. As officers closed off the streets and helped evacuate affected buildings, utility workers set about shutting off the gas and repairing the break.

“We worked with the fire department,” said NW Natural representative Melissa Moore. “Evacuations were taking place. Gas was going into the air.

“The gas was turned off and a crew started working to make the repair. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad.”

Moore said that, on average, about 500 gas lines a year are compromised badly enough to require immediate repair.

In this case, she said, the repair work took more than an hour. That paved the way for affected buildings and streets to be reopened.

McDermott said they moved deliberatedly, explaining, “We wanted to make sure everything was clear.

“Older buildings in the downtown core have shared walls, and that makes it easier for gas to drift from one occupancy to the next. As we cleared buildings we opened up streets.”

The gas break in Newberg occurred in the alleyway behind 701 E. First Street. All foot and vehicle traffic was shut off, and all nearby buildings evacuated, under the direction of police and fire personnel.

Northwest Natural completed repairs about 12:30 p.m. Assisting with incident management in the interim were crews from Newberg Public Works, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Carlton and Sherwood police departments.

Several people were treated for breathing difficulties, but there were no other injuries.

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