Thieves broke into a vacant North Ruckle home after it was shown to potential buyers Friday, Aug. 27, causing a natural gas leak that could have caused a massive explosion, according to fire and city officials.
Dep. Fire Chief Stephane Dionne said Grand Forks Fire/Rescue was called to the scene at 7004 First St. at around 7 p.m. Responding firefighters found a leaking gas pipe attached to an appliance that had been crudely ripped from a kitchen island. Broken glass strewn on the floor suggests the appliance was probably a high-end glass-top range, he said.
The home, purchased by the city through the Land Acquisition Program (LAP), had been boarded up after an open house Friday afternoon, according to city staff familiar with that program and flood mitigation projects associated with the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF). Whoever ripped up the kitchen appears to have crawled into the home through a rear window pried open by a long metal pipe, staff said.
The building’s doors and large windows were boarded up at the time of the break-in, according to Chief Administrative Officer Duncan Redfearn.
The city is hoping to sell many LAP homes in North Ruckle to buyers who will be encouraged to move the homes to other city neighbourhoods, according to Mayor Brian Taylor.
The gas meter at 7004 First Street was shut off by a Fortis BC crew before volunteer firefighters entered the home. The leak was so extensive, Dionne said the firefighters were met by a thick grey plume of natural gas on their way in. All city utilities had long been cut off to the entire neighborhood, according to city staff.
Even though firefighters were protected by special gas masks, Dionne said there was a very real risk of an explosion.
Asked what would have happened if someone were to have lit a cigarette in the kitchen before the gas was shut off, he said, “If you did that, you would not be around to talk about it after.”
Dionne said no one was found in the house or in the surrounding neighbourhood when first responders arrived. The stolen kitchen appliance was not found, he added.
Speaking to The Gazette Monday, Aug. 30, FortisBC spokesperson Sean Beardow said gas services had been cancelled at the home before Friday’s incident. But the cancellation was attributed to a customer having moved out of the address when it was logged into the company’s system, rather than having been logged as an abandoned home, which he said would have been dealt with quicker.
Beardow explained that FortisBC couldn’t confirm whether or not it had active gas lines in North Ruckle, owing to reasons of customer privacy.
“It’s our policy to go and shut off meters at abandoned homes, but until we have confirmation that a home has been abandoned, we don’t shut off the meter,” he said.
“There were people living at the residence a month ago,” he said, noting that it’s not uncommon for Fortis customers to be away from their homes for that long.
The company is working with the city to shut off and remove all gas lines in the neighbourhood, he said.
Redfearn said the city is “making good progress towards removing all utilities from North Ruckle,” but that Fortis gas lines are still active at some city-owned homes in the neighbourhood.
Grand Forks RCMP and BC ambulance crews also attended Friday’s scene.