Contractor blamed for downtown Portland gas leak

Gas leak happened in basement of building at 813 SW Alder Street

Fire crews evacuated a downtown block in Portland, November 17 2016. (KOIN)
Fire crews evacuated a downtown block in Portland, November 17 2016. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A gas leak in downtown Portland caused an entire block to be evacuated for hours Thursday morning as firefighters worked to confirm they had shut off the correct valve.

The leak was first reported around 7 a.m. when construction workers said they heard a loud hissing sound coming from a 2-inch gas line in the basement of the Woodlark Building near SW Park Avenue and Washington Street, according to Portland Fire & Rescue.

Firefighters arrived on the scene within 10 minutes and evacuated the building. Shortly after, the firefighters left the building themselves due to high levels of gas.

Fire crews evacuated a downtown block in Portland, November 17 2016. (KOIN)
Fire crews evacuated a downtown block in Portland, November 17 2016. (KOIN)

James Linn said he was on a sidewalk in the area when the gas leak happened.

“I smelled gas leaking and they just started evacuating everybody out, just telling us, ‘You guys need to get out of this area,'” Linn recalled.

Jason Milstein and other guests in a nearby hotel said they got an early wake-up call that forced them to walk down 17 flights of stairs to the sidewalk.

“I was just getting packed up to leave the hotel and the fire alarm went off asking us to evacuate the building,” Millstein told KOIN 6 News. “We just quickly got dressed and threw on our clothes, our passports are still in the room, and came down 17 floors along with a bunch of other sleepy people.”

It took firefighters only about 5 minutes to find and check the meter on the building. By 7:20 a.m. they had shut off the valve they believed was connected to the building where the leak was reported, PF&R Lt. Rich Chatman said.

But because the fire department doesn’t have access to gas line maps, there was some confusion as to whether they had shut off the right valve, Chatman explained.

NW Natural crews eventually confirmed the correct valve had been shut off.

Firefighters with gas sensors went inside around 9 a.m. to open windows and ventilate the building. They gave the all clear about 30 minutes later, fire officials said.

The leak didn’t cause any explosions and no one was injured.

NW Natural confirmed the leak was caused by a contractor working on a construction project inside the building who accidentally sawed through the gas line.

Crews and residents were on high-alert during Thursday’s incident because of a recent gas leak that caused an explosion and destroyed a building in NW Portland.