The Post Office Square shopping plaza in Essex Junction and surrounding businesses were shut down late Tuesday afternoon when property managers smelled gasoline coming from the parking lot. Eight fire and rescue crews including a state hazmat team quickly responded to secure the area and identify the source.
Asst. Chief Raymond Weed with the Essex Junction Fire Department explained, "We ended up evacuating and shutting down the complete complex after taking some measurements. The lower explosive window was up high enough for gasoline that we decided to close it all up for safety reasons."
More than 15 businesses were shut down and evacuated as teams tested the stormwater drains all around the complex. It did not take long to identify the suspected source.
"The highest readings seemed to be in the northeast corner of the complex, around the back of a gas station," Weed said.
David Simendinger owns the Gulf gas station. He told hazmat crews his business got a fuel delivery earlier in the day.
"An outside hauler brought a gasoline delivery here today. That is what we suspect happened. Maybe a small amount of gasoline spilled during the delivery," Simendinger explained.
Weed says the rainy weather played a part pushing the fuel down into the storm drain.
"When there is so much water in the ground the gasoline cannot really soak in, so it is going to flow with the water. The water is going to flow in to the drains and it goes from there," Weed said.
Crews dropped an absorbent boom into the manhole to soak up the gas and prevent any more from flowing away from the station. A high-speed fan was used to vent out the other end of the drain.
State crews are expected to be on scene Wednesday to pinpoint the source and evaluate the total damages. Weed expects the shopping plaza to reopen as usual Wednesday morning.