By Connie Tran
A little scare Wednesday morning at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. At around 10:30am, a construction contractor allegedly hit a two-inch gas line while digging. The gas leak forced the zoo to evacuate and close for about two and half hours, according to zoo officials. The Fresno Fire Department said hundreds of visitors, including children, got checked out by medical staff for being exposed to the gas, however no one was sent to the hospital.
The zoo said it’s doing construction work on the former City of Fresno corporation yard connected to the zoo to add more parking spaces to Roeding Park. Fresno Chaffee Zoo marketing manager Ciara Norton said ever since they opened up their new African Adventure exhibit a few weeks ago, the crowds have been so large and they need more parking.
Approximately 400 visitors and nearly 150 zoo staff were on the property at the time the pipe burst. Many students were on site, including 47 students from Palo Verde Elementary in Tulare. Teacher Debbie Perez said they had arrived from the South County to the zoo at 9am, but were evacuated about an hour and a half in.
Perez said, “They’re disappointed to miss the classes, and then of course, the other class was so excited to see the African Adventure, and all the other animals. But you know what, it’s better to be safe. And they [Fresno Chaffee Zoo] took care of it. They took care of us really well.”
Norton said when they learned of the gas leak, getting their guests out safely became their number one priority.
“Some of the first steps, we did notify Fire right away. The decision to evacuate was made pretty much immediately, just because we didn’t know how severe the leak was at the time,” stated Norton.
Norton said the animals were immediately taken into a holding area to keep them away from the gas. She said no animals were hurt. Visitors were taken off zoo property to Roeding Park where they waited until 1:15pm for the zoo to reopen.
PG&E said the case is being investigated and initial reports indicate the 8-1-1 number to notify PG&E of digging was not called.
Pete Martinez, the public information officer with the Fresno Fire Department said, “We actually come across this quite a bit. We work together with PG&E quite often to make sure before anybody digs you call 811 to make sure you’re not gonna be digging in an area where you have these gas lines.”
Information from www.yourcentralvalley.com