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Sanbornton residents evacuated in suspected gas leak

Sanbornton fire officials evacuated about a dozen people from apartments on New Hampton Street after an odor of what seemed to be propane gas was found in the building.

But it wasn't the gas that prompted the evacuation, it was the chemical that is added to naturally odorless propane and natural gas go give them their distinctive "rotten egg" smell as a safety measure.

Firefighters were called to 666 New Hampton St., which houses five apartments and the Sanbornton General Store, shortly before 8 a.m. Residents were evacuated from the building because of the strong odor. Some of the residents reported feeling ill, apparently due to the odor.

Sanbornton Fire Chief Paul Dexter said crews determined that the smell which prompted the call to police was from the odor-causing chemical and not from the gas itself.

"The tanks were nearly empty," Dexter said. "The smell was actually the methanethiol in the pilot lights on a commercial stove.

The pilot lights were lit, but because the propane came from the bottom of the tank, the gas flowing to the pilot lights consisted of a large dose of the odorant and a small amount of actual gas. While it was enough gas to keep the pilots burning, the flames were not strong enough to burn off the chemical.

A propane supplier was called in to refill the tanks and firefighters took readings from various spots in the building to determine that no gas had leaked into the apartments. In addition to the commercial stove in the general store, three of the five units had propane-fired heating units.

Residents were allowed back inside after the building was ventilated.


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