April 9, 2011 - The Placer County Sheriff's Office, in consultation with the Truckee Fire Protection District, has issued a voluntary evacuation order for the Serene Lakes community near Donner Summit in Placer County. The order will remain in place until further notice, and Public safety officials are encouraging residents and property owners in the area to leave until the order is lifted.
The evacuation order was put in place due to the continuing discovery of propane leaks in the area, coupled with an explosion at an unoccupied cabin in the community on Friday night. During the evacuation, there is an around-the-clock Placer County Sheriff's Office presence in the community.
There will be an Evacuation Information Center opening the morning of Sunday, April 10, 2011, in the Judah Lodge at the Sugar Bowl Ski Area. The Center will remain open daily from 10 AM until 4 PM as long as needed. In addition, County staff will be available to respond to inquiries made to the Emergency Operations Center at 530-886-5310.
The explosion Friday night was at an unoccupied cabin and completely destroyed the three-story structure. The 10:19 p.m. blast sent debris flying hundreds of feet. The source of the ignition has not been identified, and no one was injured.
The public is being asked to stay out of the area as emergency crews and public safety officials deal with the growing problem of leaking propane tanks. More than two dozen sites in the eastern end of Placer County have been affected by leaking propane since the extraordinary snowfall in March. Nearly all of the leak-related sites have been in the Serene Lakes area. Placer County today issued a proclamation of local emergency, effective in March when leaks were first discovered.
The owners of the cabin that exploded were notified and they confirmed that the Bales Road cabin was unoccupied. The site of the explosion had not been identified as having a propane-related issue, but propane had been detected at an adjacent cabin, and that leak had been cleaned up.
An incident command post has been set up near Serene Lakes to deal with the increasing number of sites. Truckee Fire Protection District, along with the Placer County Sheriff's Office, and the Offices of Environmental Health and Emergency Services are continuing work on remediating the leaking propane.
The situation remains active as new leaks are detected. Warming weather has helped to dissipate some of the propane vapor that has leaked into the snowpack. Propane vapor is heavier than air and seeks the path of least resistance while flowing downhill similar to water. The thawing and freezing snow causes the snow to crust over making it harder for the propane to find a path out of the snowpack.
The weight of the extraordinary snowpack this year has damaged pipes, valves, regulators and tanks. While there are no street closures currently in effect, there are individual residences that have been closed off with snow berms and entry in those areas is prohibited until propane levels dissipate.
Accessing the buried propane tanks has proven to be a challenge. The use of regular snow blowers, front loaders and snow plows should not be used.
Anyone who smells propane or natural gas inside or outside a building should immediately exit the area and then call 911. They also should avoid smoking, starting engines or motors, turning on cooking appliances, using heating or air conditioning systems or using other ignition sources. They should also avoid any activity that can create a spark that might ignite propane. Even flipping on a light switch can ignite propane.
Placer County will continue to issue updates as the situation dictates.
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