Wasilla natural gas main break briefly triggers talk of evacuation

Zaz Hollander
A broken natural gas main on the west side of Wasilla Tuesday morning prompted talk of shutting down the Parks Highway and evacuating businesses before the high-pressure leak was stopped. Zaz Hollander / Alaska Dispatch News

WASILLA -- A broken natural gas main on the west side of Wasilla on Tuesday morning prompted talk of shutting down the Parks Highway and evacuating businesses before the high-pressure leak was stopped. 

Enstar received a report of a "third-party break on a 4-inch natural gas distribution main" that runs along the highway, according to spokesman John Sims.

The break occurred at Lucas Road near Spenard Builders Supply, where road construction crews are working on a state project. 

The 4-inch pipe is a main distribution line that's significantly larger than the lines leading to homes and businesses, Sims said.

"It literally can blow because of the pressure that's in there. You definitely notice a hissing sound, depending on the damage. You definitely have the smell of mercaptan," he said, referring to the rotten-egg odor added to gas to aid in detection. 

Crews from Quality Asphalt Paving were installing storm drainpipe when they ran into an unmarked gas line, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokeswoman Jill Reese said.

Enstar crews arrived at 9:10 a.m., Sims said. Gas was sealed off at 9:15 a.m.

The Central Mat-Su Fire Department got a call from an Enstar representative at 9:29 a.m., according to information from emergency dispatch logs provided by Clint Vardeman, the borough's deputy emergency services director. Central Mat-Su Chief James Steele responded, as did an engine. The Meadow Lakes fire station plus two more engines were put on standby in case their help was needed. 

Just before 9:40 a.m., responders were asking for Wasilla police to help shut down the Parks, Vardeman said. By 9:45 a.m., there was talk of evacuating everything within a quarter-mile of SBS and the Westside Center, a long low building housing government offices and stores. 

Vardeman said just after 10 a.m., dispatchers said Enstar had fully secured the line and no evacuation or highway closure was necessary.

Sims said the break didn't interrupt gas supplies to customers. 

Lyle Griggs, owner of Great Valley Thrift Tire near Lucas, said a Wasilla police officer pulled into his parking lot and told him to leave in what he was calling the "10-second evacuation." 

"I said, 'All right, I'll be outta here in a few minutes,'" Griggs said. "Ten seconds later -- 'Oh, they've got it shut off.'"

Note: Changes to this story reflect a different timeline for the arrival of Enstar crews than was originally reported.