By Carey Codd

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Hundreds of people were forced from their Coconut Grove apartments Wednesday as Miami Fire Rescue dealt with a gas leak.

The leak came from a faulty pressure release valve on the tank, rumored to be 20 years old and which the property owner had no idea was even in the ground, according to Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban.

“This could have been a very dangerous situation,” he said. “Not knowing the integrity of the tank, not knowing the history of the tank, recognizing the age of the tank we were working with something that was a relative unknown.”

Fire crews spent hours burning off the propane and by 10 pm said they had replaced the valve and drained the vast majority of the tank.

“99.9 percent of the product has been burned off,” he said.

Zahralban said fire crews would check the evacuated buildings for signs of gas and, barring any problems, allow weary residents back home. For many it was a stressful day. A resident named Ziggy, she did not provide her last name, said she smelled propane gas Wednesday morning and called 911.

“We started pounding on everybody doors, getting everybody out,” she said. “I called 911 and just make sure everybody got their pets out.”

People waited for hours in the heat and watched as fire crews burned off the propane and tried to replace a faulty pressure release valve that allowed the propane gas to continuously escape the tank.
Many feared a similar situation that unfolded over the weekend in Plantation.

“Of course everyone is concerned with what we saw in Plantation so there were a lot of people from the building with their kids, dogs and pets and can’t get back into the building,” said Sandra Speier.

Some people were taken to a Fire Training Center to get out of the heat, relax and get some food. Many believed they would not be able to return home Wednesday night. But by the end of the day fire rescue crews felt encouraged that a potentially life threatening situation was dealt with and determined to be safe.

Zahralban said propane gas is heavier than air and if it found an ignition source, that could have caused a major explosion.

“We could not risk propane vapor escaping into the area,” he said. “That was a risk we could not take.”

The tank remains in the ground. Fire rescue crews will return to the scene Thursday morning to check on a contractor removing any trace amounts of gas and then filling the tank with water. They’ll also make sure the property owner makes arrangements to remove the tank.

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