Broken gas line not properly mapped, says Fortis

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A gas line broken by an excavator that forced the evacuation of more than 50 residents in Coquitlam Tuesday was not accurately documented on Fortis BC records, according to the company.

Kirsten Walker, a spokesperson for Fortis, said a city contractor was relying on faulty information when its digger struck the pipe while replacing a water main along North Road. The broken gas line was abandoned in the 1970s, she said, and does not appear on current maps of pipe infrastructure for the area.

"The rupture was a result of contact with a half-inch abandoned service pipeline," she said. "It is approximately 40 years of age and it is not indicated on our maps."

Undocumented abandoned lines are rare, but they do exist, Walker said. She added that the company's documents have a high degree of accuracy and that additional surveying will be conducted to ensure there are no other abandoned lines in the area.

Ninety-nine per cent of all ruptured pipes are the result of two factors: the contractor did not phone BC One Call, a service that maps out what is buried on a dig site, or they did not follow safe excavation practices. Cases where unmapped lines are broken — like Tuesday's incident — make up 1% of pipe ruptures, she said.

"The construction contractors followed all proper procedures," she said. "They did have their current information on site and they were using their equipment appropriately."

The incident occurred at 675 North Road while construction crews were working to replace a water main along the Burnaby border. Initially, the leak was thought to have impacted only a one block radius, however emergency crews discovered gas had migrated into neighbouring apartment buildings.

"The risk is from migrating gas," said Coquitlam fire chief Tony Delmonico. "Depending on the percentage of concentration you could have an explosion and a fire."

Evacuees were transported to nearby Cameron Recreation Centre in Burnaby and were allowed to return to their homes shortly after midnight.

Delmonico said he was pleased with the response, particularly given the fact that multiple agencies were at the scene to assist. Coordination between Burnaby fire fighters, Fortis BC, Burnaby and Coquitlam police, ambulance services and TransLink went smoothly considering the circumstances, he added.

"When you are liaising with another city it adds a complexity," he said. "We work regularly with Burnaby, so form our perspective, I think a lot of things went well."

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