Natural gas smells prompt two unrelated evacuations

The smell of gas caused the evacuation of two separate building complexes on campus early Monday afternoon.

At about 1:30 p.m. the fire alarms sounded in Funger Hall and the connecting Duques Hall. About 10 minutes later Ross Hall, which is home to the medical school, was also evacuated due to the smell of gas.

Hundreds of students, faculty and staff flocked to 22nd and 23rd streets, watching as dozens of fire fighters and about 10 fire trucks arrived within about 20 minutes following the first alarm. People were allowed to re-enter all of the buildings by about 2:15 p.m.

The University and D.C. Fire Department said it was coincidental that the two evacuations occurred nearly simultaneously.

“These were two separate issues, not related. That’s key … the timing may have been … a little bit confusing,” said Matt Lindsay, assistant director of Media Relations. “Obviously, we’d love to have none of these incidents, but I think these are all relatively minor and apparently, to the best of my knowledge, unrelated.”

The boiler in the Ross Hall basement was under repair and facilities workers may have inadvertently damaged the underground gas lines in the area, Lindsay said.

Wayne Benson, battalion chief for the fire department’s special operations unit, said welding work in Ross Hall’s basement may have been the cause of the suspicious odor.

A hazardous material team took readings of the air within the building but found nothing harmful, he added.

Christine Morgan, an employee in the Graduate Medical Education Program, initially thought the natural gas smell may have come from one of the building’s science laboratories.

“We actually smelled gas in the office – the gas that you heat a house with,” said Morgan, who was bundled up, waiting between the medical school and the hospital in the cold afternoon. “We’re near the science labs, so we thought at the time it was from there, (but then other floors were) evacuating as well.”

A maintenance crew working on fuel pumps in the basement of Funger probably led to the release of the odor, Lindsay said. The spokesperson added that someone in Funger or Duques activated a pull station, which manually sounded the alarm.

Business professor Tjai Nielsen was teaching a management course in Duques when he noticed a foul odor.

“There was a strong smell of gas … in the classroom, and my students smelled it as well,” Nielsen said as he was standing across the street from the building. Others inside Funger and Duques said they also noticed the smell of gas.

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