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Gas Leak Causes Evacuation in Lebanon

Lebanon — Two downtown apartment buildings were briefly evacuated on Saturday night after a propane tank at the AVA Gallery and Art Center began to leak, fire officials said on Sunday.

Expanding ice caused the 1,000-gallon underground propane tank’s main valve to open and leak propane gas, according to the Lebanon Fire Department, which responded at about 8:30 p.m. There were no injuries and no property was damaged.

Two apartment buildings adjacent to the gallery were voluntarily evacuated, officials said, and those displaced were housed at the fire station across Colburn Park until the leak was declared under control at about 11:30 p.m.

Fire officials said that three adults, a child and an infant were evacuated.

While the firefighters worked, the smell of gas traveled. Mike Balog, an artist and photographer who lives in the area, saw several fire trucks and police cars speed along Route 120 with their lights flashing, heard word of a gas leak on police and fire scanners and took his dog for a walk to see what was going on.

He found several streets blocked off by Lebanon fire and police personnel, as well as Hanover Fire Department vehicles, and a smell that became stronger as he got closer.

“As soon as I started getting toward city hall it became really noticeable,” Balog said.

Soon after, he was walking down the street when he spotted a man smoking a cigar. Told there was a gas leak in the area the man immediately put the cigar out, Balog said,

Even after Balog left the scene, the potency of odor of gas lingered.

“I felt the effects of it for another 20 minutes afterward,” he said.

By Sunday morning AVA was open and the day’s three events — art classes and a birthday party — went on as planned.

“Everything is fine,” said Executive Director Bente Torjusen, sitting in her office. “(The fire department) assured me everything was stable, everything was fine.”

Torjusen, who lives nearby, was told of the leak by fire officials at about 10 p.m. on Saturday, she said, and hurried to the gallery. When she got there, she found several nearby streets, including a large portion of Bank Street, were closed off.

“You know,” she said, “it looks dramatic.”

Lebanon Fire Capt. Jeff Egner said the department hasn’t heard of any long-term danger from the gas from Irving Propane, which worked Saturday night to fix the leak.

On Sunday, Torjusen pointed outside of one of the building’s hallway windows, to where the propane tank was slightly visible above ground. The only lingering effects of the leak, she said, were an icy portion of the parking lot, cordoned off by police tape, iced-over outdoor sculptures (which were undamaged) and bent bushes.

That was a result of the fire department hosing down the area while cleaning up the scene.

“It’s a way to control the propane vapor,” Egner said. “We can kind of direct it using a hose stream.”

When officials first arrived on scene, the cause of the leak couldn’t be confirmed due to the propane tank’s completely iced-over valve pit, fire officials said. Lebanon Public Works personnel eventually thawed the ice with a steam culvert thawing unit, and then were able to close the valve, stopping the gas flow.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.