Weeks after leaking propane was first discovered in the Serene Lakes community near Donner Summit, the Truckee Fire Protection District and the Placer County Sheriff’s Office have decided to leave in place the voluntary evacuation order they had instituted for the community in early April. The decision was made due to the discovery yesterday of three additional leaking propane systems coupled with their concern that, as the snow continues to melt, more will be discovered.
Extraordinary snowpack this season was thought to have created the leaks when the weight of dozens of feet of snow and ice broke plumbing between tanks and houses. As of today, a total of 43 homes have been affected by propane that had leaked from tanks either on the property or on an adjoining property. Five are still in the process of being abated.
There may still be undiscovered leaks in the area and the potential remains for more. Even in areas where the propane systems (tank, regulators and piping) are exposed, it is possible for propane to be trapped under the snow. As it is heavier than air, propane will follow a path of least resistance, and can potentially travel long distances under crusted snow.
While risk to the community has been lowered, it will not be fully reduced until the snow has completely melted. Property owners should check for propane in low areas in their houses as well as around their properties before turning on anything that could create a spark.
Property owners who have not visited the area for the past several weeks should use caution. If they suspect the possibility of a propane leak on or in the vicinity of their property but don’t actually smell propane, they should request Truckee Fire Protection District conduct air monitoring. If a smell of propane is present, however, one should move away from the site and call 911 immediately.
All property owners are encouraged to maintain their propane systems (tanks, regulators and piping) in an exposed condition at all times throughout the year, whether they are leaking or not.
Propane vendors will not refill any propane tanks unless the systems are fully exposed as leaks have been reported even where the tops of the tanks were exposed but the piping had not been cleared to the ground.
The Serene Lakes Community contains approximately 850 residences, most of which are used as vacation homes or as ski leases. Propane is used in 60 percent to 80 percent of the homes for heating and cooking, and while a number have underground tanks, the majority of tanks are above ground and therefore more susceptible to damage.
For a map of the active and abated propane leak sites in the Serene Lakes community, click this link: Serene Lakes