Workers demolishing a wall inside the former Gottschalks building on Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno hit a gas line Wednesday morning, forcing an evacuation of the nearby area for several hours.
The accident happened sometime after 9 a.m. and caused anxious moments as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. workers maneuvered to reach a shutoff valve. Complicating the work: A lit pilot light inside the building.
Fresno Fire Department spokesman Koby Johns said the shutoff valve outside the building is about three feet below the surface, forcing PG&E repairmen to jackhammer down to it.
They reached it by 11:45 a.m. By 1:15 p.m., officials determined that the gas had safely ventilated and allowed full access to the mall except for a small area around the former Gottschalks building.
At its height, the evacuated area stretched across roughly four blocks, from Home Run Alley just north of Chukchansi Park to Van Ness Avenue and from Inyo to Tulare streets.
Residents of the Hotel Californian, on Van Ness next to the former Gottschalks building, were briefly evacuated before officials determined they'd be safer inside their homes.
Johns said workers demolishing a wall ruptured a 2-inch gas line. There was no immediate word on why work was taking place in the building. The city of Fresno owns part of it, and evicted all of its tenants in January 2012 because of unsafe conditions. A Los Angeles-based group owns the rest of the building.
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