Gas leak forces Miromar Outlets to close briefly

Saturday, August 9, 2003

By SONJA BJELLAND, [email protected]

A mini-excavator digging the way for an electrical feed into new construction tapped a 2-inch natural gas pipe Friday morning, leading to the evacuation of Miromar Outlets in Estero.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 shoppers and workers left the complex while Estero firefighters arrived about 11:25 a.m. Fire Chief Dennis Merrifield said the evacuation was complete in less than 15 minutes and a TECO Gas representative clamped the hole shut. The mall reopened before 1 p.m. The incident occurred in the mall expansion construction behind Wallaby Joe's Aussie Grill.

Merrifield said a steady breeze helped blow the gas away after the hole was sealed. The firefighters prepared in case the leak turned into something more. Gas in the air depletes the amount of oxygen a body takes in and can cause headaches or worse. No one was injured in the incident.

The smell wafted in the area. Firefighters walked through the mall with gas detectors to make sure everything was safe.

"We're just really fortunate this will turn out as a nonevent," Merrifield said at the site.

This is the first full evacuation for the outlet mall since it opened in October 1998, said Jeff Staner, general manager and marketing director. Friday was an optimal shopping day, he said, because it was the last Friday before school starts and it was raining. He said they do not know how much money was lost because of the shutdown but there was not much choice.

"I think our evacuation went very well today," he said. "We have meetings with staff and everyone's trained well on it."