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Hawthorne methane gas leak: Evacuees allowed to return home

Dozens of families returned to their homes in a Hawthorne neighborhood Wednesday, weeks after officials evacuated the area when dangerous levels of methane gas were emitted from a well.

Tests on the retired well showed a cap had successfully plugged the leak, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Tony Akins. 

Thirty-seven families living in the immediate vicinity of the well were evacuated Sept. 12 as a precaution and have been living in hotels.

Residents were escorted back to their homes by members of safety teams who conducted surveys of the structures to make sure they could be occupied safely.

Health and hazardous materials officials tested the air quality and checked for any leaks or problems that might have occurred during the residents' absence, Akins said.

Representatives from the gas company reignited pilot lights.

Earlier this month, crews discovered an unexpected flow of water as they tried to plug the well, and subsequent tests revealed that methane gas had mixed with the well water. A well-capping firm, Golden State Water Co., was hired to fix the leak.

It took crews almost a week to control and eventually stop the flow of high-pressure water and methane gas after several failed attempts. The initial plan was to fashion a concrete cap over the well, but because of the large quantity of gas, officials decided to permanently affix gas-monitoring equipment to safeguard residents, Akins said.

Though the well has been capped, crews are continuing to work to complete the process. Construction activities could continue for more than a week, according to a statement from Golden State Water.

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