BEND, Ore. - (Update with more on cause, fire dept. comments)
Bend's Fred Meyer store and several adjoining businesses were evacuated for close to an hour Tuesday afternoon due to a reported gas leak in one corner of the large store.
The initial report was received shortly after 3 p.m. of people smelling and hearing gas hissing from a pipe in the merchandise pickup area of the large multi-department store.
Moments later, fire crews on scene confirmed a leak was occurring and called for evacuation of not only the entire 165,000-square-foot store but the businesses that share adjacent space in the shopping center.
Bend Fire Battalion Chief Dave Howe told NewsChannel 21's Jessie Foster at the scene that a forklift operator struck an overhead gas line feeding a ceiling-mounted heater, but immediately realized what happened and called authorities, who evacuated the building.
At first, Howe said, crews called out believed it might be propane, but it turned out to be natural gas, which is somewhat less dangerous, in some respects than propane.
“Propane is heavier than air,” he said. “Natural gas is lighter than air, so it’s going to fill up the ceiling first. So we may not even smell it right away.”
Law enforcement set up a command post in the parking lot of the store, located at 65135 S. Highway 97.
There were no reports of any injuries, and people were allowed back into the store shortly after 4 p.m..after hundreds of shoppers and workers stood or sat in the parking lot, waiting for the all-clear
"A natural gas leak in a building creates a very dangerous situation," Howe noted in a later news release. "If the gas concentrates within its explosive limits (fuel/air mixture percentage) and finds a source of ignition, it can explode with devastating force. If you smell persistent natural gas in your house, evacuate and call 9-1-1 from a safe distance."