Fire officials are warning that a catastrophe could have occurred Tuesday night across the street from Wallenpaupack Area High School, where a large propane leak was discovered behind a business.
The incident may have been related to a burglary at Mountain Laurel Pilates Studio, a body conditioning service located in a building behind Utopia Salon & Day Spa, next door to Vangorder's Furniture.
Mike Miller, 2nd Assistant Chief with Tafton Fire Company, was the officer in charge at the call. Tafton was dispatched at 9:56 p.m., with mutual aid from Hawley Fire Department. They were alerted, he said, after State Police Blooming Grove responded to the address, 2557 Route 6, for a burglar alarm.
When the trooper arrived, he immediately could detect a strong propane odor and hissing sound. The trooper retreated to the high school parking lot across the street while fire officials were called to secure the scene.
Miller said that the odor was very evident and he also heard the hissing, even from across the street. He said that investigation found that three propane tanks, each with a capacity of 250 pounds, connected to the Utopia building, were leaking gas. The tanks were linked to each other. Their connections to the building had been ripped out.
Propane, he said, is a heavy gas which lingers on the ground; there was no wind that evening. To make it more precarious, Mountain Laurel Pilates Studio also has a large, single 1,200 pound propane tank behind a fence, and there are also fireworks stored in the area.
Miller said that all it would have taken was one spark to create a major catastrophe.
He said that he did not doubt the resulting concussion from the explosion would have broke the windows at the high school across the street and school parking lot.
Firefighters cordoned off an area of about 1,500 square feet. No homes were affected. US Route 6 and Atlantic Avenue were shut down for about four hours, from the traffic light at Atlantic Avenue to the Route 6/590 junction the other side of the county bridge.
Utilizing their hazardous materials training, firefighters sprayed an intense stream of water to the rear as a pair of masked firefighters in front worked at shutting off the escaping gas.
Miller said that a door to the property was open; after the leaks had been secured, firefighters looked inside. He described the interior as "ransacked." State Police were informed. Firefighters checked nearby properties for damage but found none.
Judy Fink, owner of Mountain Laurel Pilates Studio, said there was a break-in, and State Police are still investigating. "The police and fire departments were just wonderful," she said. "I owe a lot to them. They were fabulous- they couldn't have gotten there any quicker."
Page 2 of 2 - "It was a very scary incident knowing the propane tanks were cut," she said. She added the buildings could have blown up.
She credited their burglar alarm for scaring off the intruders. They are back in business, she said.
During the incident there was an unrelated traffic accident just down the road, at 10:43 p.m. Hawley Fire Department went to assist.
Route 6 and Atlantic Avenue were opened back up to traffic at about 2 a.m., Miller said. Once fire officials were able to shut down the gas, the State Police resumed their investigation.
Miller speculated that whoever entered the business must have done that before vandalizing the propane tank connection. He said he did not know if the persons responsible for the vandalism were aware of how serious the consequences could have been.
A report from the State Police has not yet been made available.
Miller thanked the Hawley Fire Department for their assistance.