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Well spewing water and methane may not be capped until next week

Officials said it may take up to five more days to complete the cap on the well in Hawthorne that has been spewing a mixture of water and flammable methane gas, forcing dozens of families to evacuate.

On Wednesday, crews were finally able to stop the methane from seeping out of a retired water well after several failed attempts. The initial plan was to fashion a cement cap over the well, but because of the presence of the large quantity of gas, officials decided to permanently affix gas-monitoring equipment to safeguard residents, said Los Angeles County Fire Department inspector Tony Akins.

"Once complete, the project plan will provide complete control of the well, eliminate concern of surface contamination and allow residents to return home safely," Patrick Scanlon, vice president of Golden State Water Co., said in a press release.

Some roads are expected to be closed intermittently as crews work to complete the cap.  On Thursday morning, a stretch of Imperial Highway between Firmona and Gale avenues will be shut down. It is unknown when the road will reopen, Akins said.

Thirty-seven families living in the immediate vicinity of the well were evacuated in the last week as a precaution. They have been living in hotels and it is unknown when the residents will be allowed to return to their homes. But fire officials gave residents hope on Tuesday when they issued a message on Twitter that "if readings remain normal & cap is successful, re-entry planning may begin tomorrow."

But the cap did not hold.

Crews have been trying to stop the water and gas leak since last Thursday, when contractors with the Golden State Water Co. discovered an unexpected flow of water as they tried to plug the retired well. Then tests revealed that methane gas had mixed with the well water.  

Golden State hired the capping company Boots & Coots International Well Control, which used high-pressure water to stem the flow out of the well, but the methane continued to leak. Next, they injected alternating rounds of a "gel-like slug" and water to plug the leakage, Akins said. That briefly stopped the gas, but by Wednesday, methane was detected again.

Officials believe they now have the leak under control, Akins said. Crews plan to attach monitoring equipment and a blowout preventer on the well as a precaution.

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

"We're anxious to get people back home," Akins said.

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