A damaged water well in Hawthorne spews a mixture of water and methane as a crew works to cap the well.

A damaged water well in Hawthorne continues to spew a mixture of water and methane as a crew works to cap the well. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times / September 16, 2013)

Dozens of families have been displaced from their Hawthorne homes as a hazmat team and a prominent well-capping company worked Sunday to fix a methane gas leak on Imperial Highway.

Crews have been working since Thursday evening to cap the leak that was discovered when a water company was trying to plug a retired well, said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Brian Jordan. Contractors found an unexpected outflow of water from the well on Imperial Highway between Truro and Condon avenues.  Tests revealed that methane gas had mixed with the well water, Jordan said.

Thirty seven families in the immediate vicinity were evaculated as a precaution, he said. All have been staying in a hotel since Thursday.

Golden State Water Co. has hired the well-known capping company Boots & Coots International Well Control, Inc. to control the mixture of high-pressure water and methane gas being released on private property at about 3,000 gallons per minute.

Boots & Coots "will fabricate a metal structure to secure the well valve that is under high pressure," Jordan said in a prepared statement. "After the valve is secure, forward progress will continue."

Methane gas can be deadly if inhaled in a confined space, officials said, and can cause a massive explosion if ignited.

"We are bringing in the equipment, materials and other resources necessary to make repairs," said Patrick Scanlon, Golden State Water Co. vice president of operations. "Experts on site have made progress and are working to resolve the problem as soon as possible."

Official are unsure what caused the leak and how long residents will be displaced.

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