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Severe gas leak causes hourlong evacuation at Bear Creek Plaza

Businesses in Medford's Bear Creek Plaza from Big Lots to Magic Man had to be evacuated for more than an hour this morning after a semi truck struck a natural gas line behind the shopping center and caused a severe leak.

Medford Fire-Rescue, Avista and Medford police responded shortly before 9 a.m. after the truck hit a gas meter behind The Dollar Tree, said Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Ken Goodson.

"Not only was it a meter that was leaking, it was a meter under high pressure," Goodson said. "So it was a lot of natural gas being pumped out into the atmosphere."

A Medford police Facebook post said the damaged meter was "fully venting." Goodson said reaching the source of the venting gas was difficult because pallets stacked next to the meter also had been struck by the truck and hindered access.

"It was not a meter that was going to be able to be repaired, so a significant effort was put on by Avista to find the mains in the area and shut them down," Goodson said.

Avista officials said they had to shut off two valves to cut off the flow of gas. A component on the meter below the valve, called a "riser," was damaged in the impact.

"That affected about 33 customers. We’re making the repairs right now, and it will be ongoing throughout the day," said Colette Bottinelli, Avista marketing and communications manager.

Fire officials said their main concern was that gas was leaking into nearby businesses with multiple potential ignition sources inside.

"Natural gas on its own is lighter than air. It's really a safe product out in the atmosphere, but if you stick it in a building with a bunch of ignition sources, then it's a problem," Goodson said, adding they evacuated most of the businesses at the plaza and some at nearby Town Centre Drive after it turned out a shutoff was going to take a significant amount of time.

Bi-Mart Manager Glenn Iaggi said store employees could hear and smell the escaping gas just after opening the store and called Avista, police and the fire department.

"(We) evacuated the building for the safety of both customers and our help. There were approximately 40 people in the building at the time, both working and customers," Iaggi said. "We got them out, locked the doors."

Biddle and East McAndrews roads, which run adjacent to the shopping complex, remained open during the incident, though access to the parking lots was limited.

Employees and customers were allowed back into the businesses just after 10 a.m., Goodson said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Big Lots employees wait in the parking lot after a ruptured gas line prompted evacuations Wednesday at Bear Creek Plaza. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch