Hydrogen leak forces schools, businesses to evacuate

EL CAJON, Calif. – Hydrogen vapors from a tanker truck briefly ignited Wednesday, prompting precautionary evacuations of several El Cajon businesses and schools, authorities said.

Dispatchers received initial reports around 8:10 a.m. of an explosion linked to a hydrogen truck fire at 1717 Cuyamaca St., just south of Gillespie Field, Heartland Fire and Rescue public information officer Mark Casey said. He said a 1,500- to 2,000-gallon tanker truck carrying liquid hydrogen was being refilled at Veridiam, a manufacturing plant, when hydrogen vapors briefly ignited, but did not result in a fire.

The truck was making a normal stop at Veridiam to fill up its tanks when the vapors from the hydrogen temporarily ignited causing the liquid to start venting from the truck.

Arriving crews found the truck was not on fire, but was actively venting hydrogen, Casey said. He said the San Diego County Sheriff's Department evacuated students and tell businesses to shelter in place within a two-block area stretching from Cuyamaca Street to North Marshall Avenue.

Around 150 students co-located in school programs at Idea Center High School, Chaparral High School and Merit Academy were being evacuated to the gymnasium at Grossmont High School for parent reunification, Grossmont Union High School District spokeswoman Catherine Martin said.

A hazmat team was dispatched to the scene to isolate the valve and turn off the flow of hydrogen. According to officials, there are no health impacts from venting.  The gas's flammability was the main concern at the time.

The leak has now been contained as the truck's valve has been shut off. The two-block area stretching from Cuyamaca Street to North Marshall Avenue will remain closed for the next two hours as a safety precaution.

The Sycuan Green Line is rerouting at Arnele Station and the Orange Line is rerouting at El Cajon Transit Center, according to San Diego Metropolitan Systems.