Wangaratta gas leak sparks evacuation | PICTURES

HUNDREDS of Wangaratta office workers and shoppers had to be evacuated yesterday after a contractor’s backhoe sliced through a high-pressure gas line.

People were initially warned to keep clear of the city’s central business district after the incident happened just after shops opened for business.

It was initially thought it might take up to four hours to fix the gas line and do follow-up checks.

But the Country Fire Authority was able to hand back the area by 11am after giving the area the all clear.

CFA regional 23 operations manager Stewart Kreltszheim said an emergency call came through at 9.10am after a worker — believed to be dealing with a water main issue — cut through the gas line outside the Ovens Medical Group at 70 Ovens Street.

“At 9.50am the contractors came and informed us that they had stemmed the flow of gas and had clipped the line,” Mr Kreltszheim said.

“We went around with our detectors — as well as the gas company detectors — and found that the readings were low to negligible.

“We then started moving people back into the area.”

Mr Kreltszheim said workers evacuated were from Wangaratta Council, Woolworths and the medical group.

He said the area affected was Ovens Street between Reid and Ford streets, looping back behind the Woolworths car park.

Police arrived and cordoned off the area quickly and were helped by nearby workers in asking people to move away.

CFA firefighters helped with the evacuation when they arrived soon after.

Mr Kreltszheim said there no gas readings anywhere near the explosive range.

“It was certainly a precautionary exercise,” he said.

“The wind was certainly in our favour — there was a little bit of a wind drift into Safeway and that area, but generally speaking the gas was dispersing straight up into the atmosphere.

“That was a good thing.”

Mr Kreltszheim said the initial thought was that gas might have been feeding into the area from both ends of the street.

“But it ended up being a one-way flow so when they dug the first hole they were able to clip it and stop the leak,” he said.

Mr Kreltszheim said the whole incident was well handled by emergency services and other organisations, including Wangaratta Council.

“Having people moved back into the area within a couple of hours is testament to that,” Mr Kreltszheim said.