NAPLES — A natural gas leak in downtown Naples temporarily shut down a portion of Fifth Avenue South on Wednesday night and caused several businesses to close early.
The leak is believed to have been caused by workers installing fiber optic cable near the intersection of Fourth Avenue South and Eighth Street South, Naples Fire Chief Steve McInerny said. Fire officials were called to the scene around 6:40 p.m., he said.
“Anytime you have a natural gas leak or any kind of gas leak and your humidity is dropping, you have the potential for a flash fire or an explosion,” McInerny said. “That’s the worst case scenario. This is a major leak in a critical service area.”
Firefighters secured a three-block radius around the leak. There is a 2-inch gas line and a 4-inch line running parallel to one another where the break occurred. It was not immediately clear which line was broken or if both were, McInerny said.
Officials from TECO People’s Gas were called to the scene to turn off the gas and begin repairing the damage to the gas lines.
“They’re hoping to get the gas on by morning, but there are no promises,” McInerny said. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time. At 6:40 p.m. it’s the height of the evening crowd for business.”
The gas leak cut out service to gas-fed dryers, ovens and water heaters. Several businesses and restaurants were forced to shut their doors early and turn away customers when they ran out of gas. Others managed to get by serving only cold food.
Customers reported seeing fire trucks driving back and forth along Fifth Avenue South and police cars staged on both ends of the road.
“When we came to have dinner here and drove into the parking garage, I told my wife it smelled like gas,” said Jerry Vasquez of Naples, a customer at the Mangrove Cafe. “That’s when I saw two fire trucks drive by.”
Ken Clairmont, a server at Rossopomodoro, called 911 after he smelled gas.
“Within 15 minutes the whole street was closed off,” he said. “People were saying they smelled it as early as 5:30 and I have to ask myself, it smells like gas and nobody called the fire department?”
This is not the first time a gas leak has affected business in downtown Naples.
In November 2010, a natural gas line explosion in Lee County left more than 8,000 customers in Southwest Florida without gas, including restaurants from Fort Myers to Naples. Two months later, a gas explosion near Four Corners in downtown Naples damaged the Mangrove Cafe along Fifth Avenue South and injured three people.
“We’re a little gun shy on this block,” Clairmont said.
Firefighters were on scene for about three hours Wednesday night. The Naples fire department was not able to respond to any other calls in the city, McInerny said. North Naples firefighters provided backup.
“It taxes our resources,” McInerny said.