Gas problem at Westlake apartment displaces dozens

Gas problem at Westlake apartment displaces dozens
Apartment building was evacuated after gas leak. (Source: WOIO)

WESTLAKE, OH (WOIO) - Residents of a Westlake apartment complex cannot return to their homes Thursday, and likely won't be able to return for at least several days, after a strong smell of gas was reported to the fire department.

Cleveland 19 was told by residents of Barrington Place Apartments that Columbia Gas is on scene and is performing a test that takes 48 hours to complete to determine what type of gas it is. Residents said that the company that owns the property is paying for hotel rooms for those residents who were displaced due to the apparent gas issue.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said they sent an inspector out to assist with the investigation, who determined that it is not their jurisdiction. An ODNR spokesperson says that department usually deals with oil and gas production, so it wouldn't be involved if the gas was determined to be a different type of gas, like methane.

Jim Simons has lived at the Barrington for more than 10 years. He said he remembers what happened last time he says there was gas of some sort around the building, and is concerned the same thing will happen this time.

"They're going to bring the trucks out here and the backhoes and they're going to dig that area up for the next two weeks. In the meantime they're telling us, 'well you're going to have to live somewhere else.' It's not acceptable."

He said the last time this happened he did not have to evacuate his apartment, because he said the problem was determined to be in a unit far enough away from his home.  He said this time he thinks the fire department is taking too many precautions by evacuating him from his home and inconveniencing him. The Westlake Fire Department's assistant fire chief told Cleveland 19 that when gas is involved the fire department takes an abundance of caution.

"Any time there's really any levels of natural gas in a building we're going to err on the side of caution," said Westlake assistant fire chief Mike Freeman.

Cleveland 19 also asked Freeman about the previous gas issue, and if anything could have been done to prevent the current situation.

"At the time they put in some sort of a exhaust system. We didn't receive any problems in this area, any odors of gas during that time, so, um I can't speak to the effectiveness of that system over the time," said Freeman.  He said that his department received several calls about a strong odor of gas during the previous incident several years ago. He said his department hadn't heard any complaints since that time, until the department received a 911 call on Wednesday.

Freeman said his department is working with Columbia Gas. He said that agency discovered levels of gas that ranged from very low to close to the explosive limit on some parts of the property. He said the higher gas limits were recorded on the exteriors of the building so the gas "seemed to be coming up."

A secretary at the apartment complex asked Cleveland 19 to leave the property and said there was no update on the situation. Both Columbia Gas and J Dek properties, who is the management company for the apartment building, did not return requests for comment.

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