Gas leak at Portsmouth elementary school

This backhoe used by National Grid accidentally dug up a gas line next to Melville Elementary School Tuesday morning. This backhoe used by National Grid accidentally dug up a gas line next to Melville Elementary School Tuesday morning.

This backhoe used by National Grid accidentally dug up a gas line next to Melville Elementary School Tuesday morning.

This backhoe used by National Grid accidentally dug up a gas line next to Melville Elementary School Tuesday morning.

PORTSMOUTH — A contractor working at Melville Elementary School Tuesday morning struck a buried gas line, sending firefighters to the scene to ventilate the building and National Grid to repair the damage to its pipe.

There were no children in the school at the time. School Committee Chairman David Croston said the School Department is conducting fire code upgrades at the school.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael P. O’Brien said the department received a report at 9:46 a.m. that a backhoe had dug up a gas line on the school’s south side off West Main Road.

The building was partially evacuated when firefighters arrived, he said. “We found there were trace amounts of natural gas in the building. Fortunately, the wind direction seemed to be out of the northwest heading southeast, so it was blowing the gas away from the building,” said Deputy Chief O’Brien.

Although there was a heavy odor of gas, firefighters checked for explosive gas levels around the building and found the area safe, he said. “Natural gas is extremely light compared to air, so it takes right off and goes up,” he said.

A worker from National Grid arrived on the scene and manually used a clamp to crimp the line off, said the deputy chief.

“After the gas leak was secured, we sent guys back into the building and they ventilated the structure. They moved all the remnants of the gas out of the building, opened up the windows. We are safe; we’ve opened up the building for the workers again,” he said.

Portsmouth firefighter Ed Maher returns hoses to a pumper truck at Melvile School Tuesday morning.

Portsmouth firefighter Ed Maher returns hoses to a pumper truck at Melvile School Tuesday morning.

A Navy fire engine covered the station while Portsmouth firefighters were on the scene, and a Middletown rescue vehicle also responded to Melville as a precautionary measure.

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