Propane leak forces Dayton High evacuation Wednesday

The leak was reported as Dayton and DeSales prepared for a volleyball game.

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DAYTON -- John Hutchens said he nearly choked on his shrimp and eggroll when he learned Wednesday that propane gas was leaking under the Dayton High School gymnasium.

Hutchens, maintenance supervisor for Dayton School District, was eating dinner at a Walla Walla restaurant when one of the night custodial crew called him.

"My guys that were here did the right thing. They got people out, called the fire department and then called the gas company," Hutchens said.

A smell of propane gas was reported about 4:20 p.m. as coaches and players prepared for a varsity volleyball match between Dayton and DeSales Catholic High School.

The source was a system used to heat water for showers and hand washing when the main heating system is off for the season.

Columbia County Fire District Chief Rick Turner said the leak turned out to be a good exercise for emergency responders, "but I'm glad nobody got hurt."

After everyone was evacuated, Second and Third streets were closed, and owners of vehicles parked in the vicinity were instructed not to start their cars, Turner said. Gas was turned off, as well as electricity.

Testing showed gas levels were high, until the fire department used its large fans to blow air from the basement through doors opened in the gym floor and the lobby doors.

This morning Hutchens had fired up the diesel-fueled boilers, and the propane will not be needed until next spring. By then, Hutchens hopes district officials will have considered other alternatives for heating water during the non-heating season.

The volleyball game was rescheduled for Monday.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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