Residents of eight Irvine homes were evacuated for about four hours Monday afternoon when a soil-sampling firm accidentally ruptured a four-inch natural-gas main under Sawleaf Avenue, near its intersection with Poplar Street, police said.
The gas-line break caused no fire or damage to homes in the area. But Kathleen Cha, spokeswoman for the Orange County Fire Department, said the leaking gas formed a large and potentially dangerous bubble, raising the level of the street about 18 inches.
The danger ended, however, after Southern California Gas Co. crews sealed the three main lines feeding the area. The last main was pinched off at 5:26 p.m., said Robert Hird, community affairs manager for the company.
Gas to three houses was shut off, but service was restored at 8:42 p.m., Hird said.
Cha said Interstate Soil Sampling employees accidentally struck the underground line about 2:25 p.m. while using a drilling rig to take soil samples in preparation for construction of a storm drain.
Cha said the leaking gas "formed a big bubble under the street, 2 feet by 30 feet in size. . . . It was a real interesting-looking gas bubble."
As a precaution, Fire Department officials asked area residents to leave their homes. Police said the evacuation was orderly and there were no injuries. Most of the evacuees stayed in the immediate area. Families were allowed to return to their homes after the leak was sealed.
Cha said the homes were all in an area where Poplar, Sawleaf, Oak Avenue and Redwood Street intersect or converge.
A similar gas leak occurred in January about 75 feet from the intersection of Poplar and Sawleaf when another company taking soil samples hit a main, Fire Department spokesman David Pierce said. Sixty people were evacuated in that incident. Pierce said he didn't know if it was the same line.
Mike Rendina, a geologist for Converse Consultants who was working with two men from Interstate Soil Sampling, said a representative from the gas company who visited the site Friday and Monday morning had been unable to locate the gas line.
"He had a design plan that called for it to be 22 feet off the property line. That would put it about 12 feet off the street," Rendina said. "We drilled about four feet off the curb, and we found it. If we would have drilled anywhere else, we would have missed it."
Gail Roseen, a spokeswoman for the gas company, said an employee had difficulty locating the main. "Normally in that situation the gas company would advise them not to use automatic equipment," she said.