Fresno Chaffee Zoo reopens after evacuation for natural gas leak

Visitors to Fresno Chaffee Zoo wait outside the gates following an evacuation due to a gas leak.
Visitors to Fresno Chaffee Zoo wait outside the gates following an evacuation due to a gas leak. rappleton@fresnobee.com

A gas leak at the old Fresno corporation yard in Roeding Park led to evacuation of guests and staff from Fresno Chaffee Zoo for about three hours Wednesday.

Zoo animals, however, were kept in their normal enclosures and exhibits, said Scott Barton, zoo director.

Barton said the zoo reopened about 1:25 p.m. and veterinarians were set to check the animals closest to the corporation yard, which is north of the reptile area.

Zoo spokeswoman Alisha Anderson said there was a slight smell of gas in the air about 10:45 a.m. The line was shut off by Pacific Gas and Electric workers at 12:40 p.m.

The leak was caused when workers with a private contractor gashed a low-pressure, 2-inch plastic service line, said PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles. He said there is no indication that contractor representatives called the 811 number to check whether gas lines were in the area.

The work was part of a project on a shared parking lot for the zoo and Roeding Park, Anderson said. The project, she said, is separate from the recently completed zoo expansion.

It’s not clear how many people were evacuated from the zoo, but estimates are there were a few hundred people inside at the time the alert was given, Anderson said.

The corporation yard is north of the zoo.

Storyland was closed Wednesday, but workers on site were evacuated, said spokeswoman Sarah Pruner.

Firefighters categorized the problem as a minor gas leak, said Mark Standriff, Fresno city spokesman. The zoo evacuation and park closure were “precautionary,” he said.

Andrea Irby was in the zoo with her twin 7-year-old daughters when it was evacuated.

“I thought I smelled this faint gas smell as we were walking,” she said. Shortly after, a staff member told her the zoo was being evacuated.

Irby and her daughters were part of a field trip from Norseman Elementary School.

“We were told just to stay here,” she said. “We still have 45 minutes left on the field trip, but I don’t think we are going back in there. I think we’ll just leave.”

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin. Staff writer Rory Appleton contributed to this report.