Sanger Plant Leak Caused by Roof Collapse, Authorities say

A Christmas play with a frightening finish as play-goers at Lincoln Elementary in Sanger left, covering their faces to protect from the potent smell of ammonia in the air.

"When we got here it was like a strong odor already, we didn't know what it was," crowd member Isabel Rodriguez said.

Fire and police crews taped off the area of North and Academy from several sides.

Picking up 75 parts per million initially, requiring crews to isolate, deny entry to the area and evacuate anyone inside.

"We've got a lot of ammonia, it seems thick, down on the ground right now," Sanger Fire Chief Greg Tarascou said.  

Tarascou says, a smaller staff was working at the plant tonight. Those employees all made it out safely by the time crews arrived. 

Crews then prepared for entry.

"What they're going to do is basically a recon mission, find out what is collapsed, how much ammonia's being leaked and if there is a way to stop it," Tarascou said.

In full hazmat gear.

"It'd be a fully-encapsulated suit with a interior breathing," Tarascou said. "So there's self-contained breathing apparatus in their suit." 

Tarascou doesn't know if the rain caused the collapse, and says crews are still figuring out exactly how the ammonia is leaking.

"Tank, piping, it could be a valve that was ruptured, we really don't know," Tarascou said.  

Tarascou hopes there's a master valve the crews can shut off.

"We're hoping with the folks we have here that are the experts in the system, we can figure out which piping will lead to the leak and shut it off from there," Tarascou said. 

Now the chief says the gas does dissipate as it moves out, he says they'll be working with environmental health on the cleanup.

Residents are asked to shelter in place and avoid the area.

Reporting in Sanger, Megan Rupe. 

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