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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gas Leak at Penn Mar Shopping Center Mitigated





Prince George’s County Firefighters were alerted to a potentially dangerous situation at a strip shopping center. A Washington Gas Company employee was investigating a customer complaint of an odor of natural gas near the Marshall's Department Store at Penn Mar Shopping Center, 3400 Donnell Drive in Forestville. The Gas Co. employee encountered a strong odor and high levels of natural gas inside the store and notified his dispatch center of the immediate need for the Fire Department and PEPCO. The employee then started to evacuate the store. Just after 1:00 PM, Sunday, September 27, 2009, firefighters were dispatched to the scene and upon arrival initiated actions to evacuate 13 stores of approximately 125 people. Two stores; Marshalls and an adjoining eyeglass store had the highest levels of natural gas, the remainder of the evacuations were precautionary. PEPCO arrived quickly and terminated the power to the buildings which was key to averting escalation of this incident. Prince George’s County Firefighters are all too familiar with this shopping center and natural gas leaks and took quick and immediate actions to ensure the safety of civilians and firefighters. A similar incident in May 2009 at this shopping center involved an explosion injuring nine firefighters and destroying several stores.

Similar circumstances in today’s incident also occurred in the May explosion. There was a release of natural gas into the stores by way of the electrical conduit that feeds into the stores. This time, firefighters and utility companies arrived early enough and worked quickly to avoid explosive results. Readings taken by the Gas Company and firefighters detected a concentration of natural gas in the atmosphere of 3.5%. An explosion is possible when a reading reaches 4.0%

Nearly 30 firefighters worked for nearly five hours with the Washington Gas Company to mitigate the emergency. The flow of natural gas was terminated and all stores were ventilated at about 5:45 PM. Gas Co. and PEPCO officials will work with property management to determine why this situation occurred for a second time. Some stores on the end of the strip shopping center in the area of Marshall's will remain closed until repairs can be made. The County Police Department was on the scene assisting with evacuations and scene security. No injuries were reported.

On May 7, 2009 nine firefighters were injured and several stores destroyed from a natural gas explosion at the same shopping center.

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