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Explosion guts three Collins Lake condos

Investigators to determine whether threat still exists
by: courtesy of Ashlie Stephens, Firefighters battle the fires at the Collins Lake Resort Thursday, Jan. 24, in Government Camp.

A propane explosion that gutted three condominiums at Collins Lake Resort in Government Camp was the tip of the iceberg with regard to gas leaks, investigators discovered last weekend.

The westernmost unit in a row of six three-story condos at 88149 E. Creek Ridge Road burst into flames during just before 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, creating a fire that eventually devoured it and the two units adjacent to it.

'The three condos were pretty much destroyed,' Hoodland Fire Chief Mic Eby said. Several other nearby condos also were damaged. The explosion 'blew the condo's garage door to pieces,' Eby said, and disintegrated the stairs.

None of the three condos was inhabited at the time of the fire, and there were no reports of injuries.

Vacationers and residents of the 151-unit community were evacuated from the condos for at least a day, while the Oregon state fire marshal, Clackamas County inspector and personnel from gas providers Legacy Propane investigated the complex.

'The units were initially closed so that Legacy could go through and do pressure tests on all units,' State Fire Marshal Ted Maggart said. 'They found some leaks.'

He said he wasn't sure how widespread the leaks were, but said they were spread throughout the complex - 'not localized to the area where the fire was.'

As the units were certified 'leak-free,' Maggart said, residents and other occupants were allowed to re-enter them.

Maggart said there still are some units - he guesses about six - that remained off-limits as of Tuesday, Jan. 29. Legacy Propane confirmed that its leadership was still on-site.

Representatives from both Legacy Propane and furnace manufacturer Pioneer Gas Furnace had no comment on the matter, and representatives from Collins Lake Resort could not be reached for comment.

The cause of the leaks is yet to be determined; however, Maggart says he believes the location of the outdoor meters may have something to do with it.

'Where the meters are located makes them vulnerable to the snowpack,' Maggart said, noting that the community's snow removal program pushes excess snow near the meters, putting pressure on them.

The state is taking that theory seriously enough to compel Collins Lake to better protect its meters, likely in the form of external enclosures. That would make life easier for meter readers and emergency services personnel, who had to dig through several feet of snow to get to the shutoff valve last Thursday night in order to stop the propane-fed blaze.

Condo owners and tourists reported smelling propane weeks, months and even years before the explosion.

Nancy Schee, who bought a condo at Collins Lake in 2006, said she often smelled propane after the garage door would be closed for a long period of time and reopened. After trying to get management and Legacy to fix the problem, a service technician from furnace company Pioneer Gas Furnace responded to the condo, finding a cracked fitting.

'We haven't smelled anything since,' Schee said. 'Probably there should be detectors in place at all the condos for safety.'

Added another homeowner via www.sandypost.com, 'This is not a time to point fingers. Make it right and make it right now.'

Firefighters probably wouldn't want to relive the experience they had last week.

At least 40 firefighters from Hoodland, Sandy, Boring, Gresham and Estacada responded to the blaze, battling 17-degree temperatures, frozen hoses and equipment, and heavy snow on and around the condos.

Fire belched from the unit's garage, shooting flames into the air until firefighters could dig through several feet of snow to reach the outdoor propane shutoff valve.

'It was amazing to me that we had 51 firefighters there from five different fire districts, in about the worst conditions you could think of, and nobody got hurt,' Eby said. 'The potential was there for a lot of pain and a lot of agony, yet we were able to save at least 50 percent of the building. I'm real proud of every single one of those guys.'