Serene Lakes Leaking Propane Incident Winds Down

The four-month long series of multiple leaking propane tank incidents in the Serene Lakes area near Donner Summit has been officially closed. Whereas the Placer County Board of Supervisors officially terminated the state of local emergency on June 7, Truckee Fire Protection District, Placer County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) and the Placer County Division of Environmental Health continued final clean up until very recently. Any additional leaks will be handled as a separate incident by Truckee Fire.

Effective June 24, 20111, the incident command team comprising officials from the PCSO, Truckee Fire and Environmental Health finished ensuring the remediation of all 43 home sites where propane was detected.

Leaking propane is believed responsible for an explosion in April that completely destroyed an unoccupied, three-story house in Serene Lakes. In addition to the numerous properties where the leaks actually occurred, migrating propane also affected some neighboring properties. At numerous times in the past several months and for varying lengths of time, entry into many residences was prohibited, road closures affected travel in the area and a voluntary evacuation order was in effect. Utility services in the community, including propane, power, telephone and cable television were also interrupted during the incident.

Since March, members of the Truckee Fire Protection District, Environmental Health and the Sheriff’s Office have worked on a daily basis, including weekends, to ensure timely abatement of the 43 affected properties. The weight of this winter’s cumulative snowpack, often rising to 30 feet or more in height, broke some of the piping, regulators and valves between tanks and houses. In addition, tank footings failed causing further plumbing failures due the shifting weight.

“I’m deeply indebted to Truckee Fire, the Sheriff’s Office, Environmental Health and all the other public and private groups and individuals who helped to get us through this situation of leaking propane systems,” said Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whose Fifth District includes the Eastern Placer County. “The coordination and communication between all these entities was outstanding and truly helped to make a bad situation better.”

Elsewhere in Eastern Placer County, 51 other homes and businesses experienced leaking propane systems throughout the late winter/early spring months. A home in Ward Canyon in the Lake Tahoe Basin was destroyed due to a propane explosion, but fortunately, like the incident in Serene Lakes, the home was unoccupied.

Emergency personnel no longer detect propane leaks or accumulations in the Serene Lakes community. However, although much accumulated snow has melted, some propane systems remain covered in snow, and consequently, the area cannot be declared totally “safe” from leaking propane. There may still be undiscovered leaks, and it is still possible for propane to be trapped under snow.

If any propane odor is detected, additional monitoring will be done to ensure there are no hazardous concentrations of propane. Any new leaks that are detected will be treated as individual incidents and handled by emergency responders. Anyone smelling the odor of propane should leave the area immediately and dial 9-1-1.

Placer County, in conjunction with Truckee Fire Protection District and North Tahoe Fire Protection District, is developing an information sheet on safe propane system installations and propane safety in communities above 5,000 feet. This information will be available this summer.

There will also be a presentation on leaking propane systems at the next Donner Summit Municipal Advisory Council meeting on July 21, 2011. The meeting will be in Judah Day Lodge at the Sugar Bowl ski area in the Cold Stream Room at 6 p.m.