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Placer County gets tough on Serene Lakes propane leaks

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With one unoccupied Serene Lakes cabin destroyed in an explosion and two dozen propane systems at other homes determined to have dangerous leaks, Placer County Executive Officer Tom Miller signed an order Thursday requiring repairs. The abatement order requires property owners with tanks that leak to do the necessary repairs on tanks, pipes and valves. If owners don’t respond to the order and the work is not completed, the county will step in with a warrant, do the work and bill the property owner. Heavy snow accumulations this season have caused a crisis situation in the Serene Lakes development, located near Donner Summit and about 60 miles northeast of Auburn. An explosion Friday in one cabin sent debris flying hundreds of feet from the three-story structure but left no-one injured. The county has been attempting to deal with the leak situation since late March and a voluntary evacuation was issued by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office the same day as the explosion. The Board of Supervisors backed that up by voting Monday to declare the Serene Lakes propane crisis a local emergency. The warming weather is causing snowmelt, which is adding weight to propane plumbing. Robert Miller, a county spokesman, said Serene Lakes has 850 residences and about 80 percent are on propane. With propane vapor heavier than air, it seeks a path of least resistance while flowing downhill similar to water. The thawing and freezing snow causes the snow to crust over, making it even harder for propane to find a path out of the snowpack. The weight of the snow has also damaged pipes, valves and other equipment. The county is warning about the possibility of an explosion or fire in the area of a leak that could be touched off by simply starting an engine, turning on a stove or flipping on a light switch.