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Vista Gas Leak Impacts Nearby Middle School and Preschool

A gas leak in Vista Wednesday affected two nearby schools, prompting one campus to shelter-in-place and the other to evacuate.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) public information officer Joe Britton said a 3-inch gas line was struck by construction crews digging at Olive Avenue and Maryland Drive at around 10 a.m.

Ned Vander Pol, deputy fire chief with the Vista Fire Department, said the line appeared to contain a three-way valve, causing gas to leak from three sources. He said nearby Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA), located at 740 Olive Avenue, just west of the ruptured pipe, was ordered to shelter-in-place due to the leak.

SDG&E crews were called to the scene to cap the leak. Vander Pol said power in the area was turned off as a precaution due to a number of overhead power lines in the vicinity of the leak.

Officials said 806 middle school students are enrolled at VIDA. Those students were relocated to safe zones in the back of the campus where they sheltered-in-place for the day.

Vander Pol said students and faculty were not in danger during this process.

The Vista Unified School District said VIDA parents were notified of the incident by the school’s principal, Eric Chagala, via email. Parents were given to option to pick up their kids from school early, though it was not mandatory.

Chagala’s email explained that there had been “a strong smell of natural gas on campus,” which alerted school officials that something was amiss and led them to purposely pull the fire alarm.

The email said students were first evacuated to the football field and, once firefighters deemed the campus safe, were returned to classrooms. Teachers with gas smells in or near their classrooms moved with their students to other places on campus.

“Teachers are being instructed to be aware and sensitive to students who may have a headache or tummy ache from the gas smell,” Chagala added. “We are keeping doors and windows closed as needed.”

Following the incident, the Vista Unified School District confirmed 30 students at VIDA visited the school nurse with complaints of headaches and nausea.

VIDA parent Elana Price picked up her 8th grade student from campus early, plus six other kids for whom she is listed as an emergency contact.

Price praised the quick response from Chagala and school faculty, and said she trusted all students were “in really good hands” during the incident, including her own child.

“I’m not scared, I know everybody’s got it under control,” Price told NBC 7. “I’m not worried about it – it smells pretty bad, though,” she said.

Price said her group of kids were not scared either.

“I think, honestly, they’re probably pretty stoked they get to go home early today,” she added.

Janet Navarro, the mother of a 13-year-old student at VIDA, said her son called her from school, nervous about the strong gas odor.

She decided to pick him up because she didn’t want him to start feeling sick.

“It’s scary because you can smell it. Actually, it smells all the way to my house,” Navarro told NBC 7. “It’s scary because you don’t know what, exactly, to expect – especially because they’re kids – and you know, it’s all concentrated.”

Mother Kelly Humann was surprised by how strong the odor was when she went to the school to pick up her son.

“It stinks so bad here,” she said. “I’m pretty astounded at how bad it smells. The smell is potent.”

Humann said her son begged her to pick him up from school. While there, she also planned to pick up three more students early, all kids belonging to her friends.

Meanwhile, officials said a preschool next door to VIDA was evacuated, as the leak occurred directly in front of the preschool. That school serves 40 students, ages 3 to 4. All of those students were picked up by their parents by 10:30 a.m. No one was injured there, officials said.

The Vista Fire Department also advised residents within 300 feet of the gas leak to shelter-in-place throughout the ordeal, the City of Vista said on Twitter.

Just before 1:30 p.m., Vander Pol said SDG&E was working to repair the leak before VIDA’s 3:08 p.m. dismissal time.

At 2:11 p.m., the leak was capped, Britton confirmed.

The incident is under investigation. The school district said workers with the Vista Irrigation District were involved in the accidental rupturing of the gas line.

Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego
Source: NBC San Diego

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