High-Pressure Gas Leak at Pomona Prompts Evacuations

A Campus Safety officer turns a student back from the evacuated area on Bonita Avenue Wednesday. (Marc Rod • The Student Life)

Update: As of 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, the gas leak was resolved, with all surrounding streets reopened and evacuations lifted. 

Construction workers laying electrical conduits for Pomona College’s new art museum ruptured a two-inch high pressure gas line under the intersection of College Avenue and Bonita Avenue at 1:55 p.m. Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said, prompting an evacuation of nearby buildings.

The gas is dissipating into the air and does not pose any serious risks of explosion or poisoning, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Joey Marron said. Gas readings taken by firefighters on the site are minimal, Marron added, but he told people to be careful.

“If you smell it, get out of the area,” Marron said. He also cautioned students to be aware and evacuate if they felt any symptoms of gas exposure, which include tiredness, nausea, dizziness and headache.

Pomona buildings west of Sumner Hall and south of Sixth Street were initially evacuated, including academic buildings, residence halls, and the Alexander Hall administrative building, as emergency police and fire personnel arrived at the scene.

Students received a text alert from Campus Safety telling students to avoid the area at 2:15 p.m., 20 minutes after the leak. The next text update came 20 minutes after that, noting that evacuations were taking place and instructing students to follow directions from police. Alerts were also sent via email.

Clyde Phillips, a campus safety officer blocking off Bonita Avenue, said officers went through residence halls knocking on doors and quickly ushering students outside as fire alarms blared. With help from Pomona maintenance workers, the officers set up a cordon running north across Pomona’s campus to block students from getting closer to the site of the gas leak.

Bonita Avenue between College Avenue and Harvard Place had already been scheduled to be closed from Wednesday to Friday to install electrical conduits.

Phillips said the loud noise coming from down the street behind him, which sounded like rushing water, was actually gas flowing out of the broken pipe.

Campus Safety officer Clyde Phillips keeps students off of Bonita Avenue, where the leak occurred. (Kellen Browning • The Student Life)Southern California Gas Company officials, who arrived on the scene soon after the break occurred, were unable to control the leak, and a special repair crew arrived on campus around 3:50 p.m.

As of approximately 4:30 p.m., the company had not begun to work on the line, and was considering two options for repairs, Marron said. He could not provide an estimate for how long repairs might take.

Rob White, a Pomona plumber waiting with firefighters and police officers near the site of the leak, thought the repairs could go into the night.

“These are not quick fixes,” White said, noting that the gas line is as old as adjacent Wig Hall, which was built in the 1960s and renovated in 1993.

Officials moved their blockade back toward the site of the leak at about 3:05, allowing students to return to all residence halls except Wig. The President’s House, Seaver House, Rembrandt, Thatcher and the current art museum remain closed. 

Harwood and Lyon Residence Halls were re-evacuated at 3:50 “as a precaution” due to fumes, associate dean Chris Waugh wrote in an email to students.

Kensi Martinez PO ‘21 was at class in Mason Hall at 2:30 when she said members of Campus Safety came in and ordered students to leave.

“Very urgent, like ‘Please evacuate,’” Martinez said. The officers didn’t tell her what was happening, but friends who were forced out of Harwood Hall told her what was going on — and she could smell the gas.

“We don’t believe that there’s a threat of explosion to the buildings, we just want to clear out in case something happens,” director of housing Frank Bedoya told curious students near the blocked street.

Claremont Courier journalist Matthew Bramlett interviews a Claremont police officer while firefighters and other security officers wait for the arrival of a repair crew. (Kellen Browning • The Student Life)

Sam Horowitz PZ ’20 heard about the gas leak through one of his classmates, who told people in his class at Hahn Hall about the email. As they started to leave class, the alarms went off.

“Our class was interrupted as we had to evacuate and we had to figure out what to do next,” he wrote in a message to TSL. “Eventually we went to a room in the Hive and continued class.”

Other students were looking for ways to get back into the dorms.

“My friend’s bunny is still in [Harwood],” Sean MacPherson PO ‘20 said. “We want to get it out so it doesn’t inhale toxic fumes.”

Claremont residents were impacted as well. Librarian Amy Crow said people in the town’s public library, which is next to the site of the new art museum, were evacuated at about 2:18 p.m.

“We definitely were shooing people out from the children’s area and the adult area,” Crow said.

Construction on the art museum is being led by general contracting company Hathaway Dinwiddle Construction C., but Braeger Construction is performing the utility work on Bonita Ave. and ruptured the gas line, Assistant Vice President of facilities and Campus Services Robert Robinson wrote in an email to TSL.

Elinor Aspegren and Liam Brooks contributed reporting.

This article was updated on Nov. 17 to reflect that Braeger Construction was the company that ruptured the gas line.