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Playa Vista Residents Evacuated in Methane Scare

Times Staff Writer

More than 100 residents of an apartment complex at the Playa Vista development near Marina del Rey were evacuated early Sunday after a methane alarm sounded.

Los Angeles Fire Department officials said it was a false alarm, and Playa Vista representatives said they suspect that a janitorial crew inadvertently tripped a methane detector.

The evacuation rattled tenants at the project, which is built atop an unknown amount of methane. A naturally occurring gas, methane is odorless and nontoxic, but it can explode if it builds to a high enough volume in a contained space and is exposed to heat.

Representatives of the developer said they believe that workers spraying a cleaning solvent near the detector might have caused the malfunction.

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One tenant who asked not to be named said she had been awakened by a firefighter who rang her doorbell at the Fountain Park Apartments near Lincoln Boulevard. She said he told her that high levels of methane had been detected, and that residents were being evacuated to a grassy area outside. While they were outside, firefighters warned the tenants not to start their cars, for fear that an auto ignition could spark an explosion.

Fire Capt. Joe Teijeira said five four-person companies, a battalion commander and a hazardous materials squad responded to the alarm, which went off in three of the complex’s five buildings. Fire officials ordered all buildings evacuated as a precaution. “It was a false alarm,” Teijeira said. “It was a nothing deal.” Readings taken by the hazardous materials squad were all negative, he said.

The methane detector triggered not only an audible alarm but also flashing lights.

Playa Vista spokesman Steve Sugerman said the alarm appeared to be “the result of a malfunction that they think was caused by a cleaner.” He said follow-up measurements showed zero percent methane “for every sensor across all buildings.”

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The Fountain Park tenant said evacuation from the apartments had become “all too familiar.” For the first few months she lived there, starting in June, residents were roused several times by fire alarms, all of them false.

In response to community concerns about underground methane, Playa Vista’s developers agreed to install an unprecedented array of safety measures. In addition to sensors and alarms, there are underground barriers, vent pipes and fans.

Playa Vista detractors contend that the systems are unproven and could fail.


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