CREATED Jul. 30, 2013
SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Normally the smell of rotten egg would tip someone off. Not this time. Instead, a child used another one of her senses, discovering a big gas leak and setting off a neighborhood evacuation. They now call her a hero.
It started with an eight year old's ears. Erika Caperon heard something odd coming from her front yard Friday.
“I went outside to greet my mom,” Erika said. “I went to the rocks, and I hear like a river [underground].”
“It sounded like water running [underground], like a little creek or something,” said her mother, Norma.
They called 911 and other officials. Responders found a natural gas leak, which is something young Erika had never heard of before.
Crews immediately evacuated homes on Calle Amable in Sierra Vista.
“It was a pretty sizable leak,” said Libby Howell, spokeswoman for Southwest Gas.
Crews fixed the leak relatively quickly, but they’re still working to clean up and make safe the area. They set up more than a six dozen vacuum-like devices along the street. They’re pumping out gas that’s left in the ground.
The machines are incredibly noisy. The evacuation is incredibly inconvenient for neighbors.
“We're in the same clothes as Friday,” said Miguel, Erika’s father.
Yet people here are incredibly thankful for this 8 year old.
“She saved our lives,” said neighbor Cathy Combs. “We could've all been dead that quickly. The whole neighborhood could've exploded.”
“Who knows? This neighborhood probably wouldn't be here,” Miguel added.
“I think we need to throw a big party for her,” said neighbor Rick Combs.
“She's basically a hero,” Norma said.
Southwest Gas said there's no way to tell how much gas leaked or for how long. Neighbors think it started months ago because that’s when trees very close to the broken line died.
Why did Erika hear the leak -- not smell it? It looked to neighbors like rain that day mixed with the gas. The combination bubbled loudly.
That rain has also slowed the cleanup.
“When the soil is wet, it becomes more dense and less porous,” Howell said. “It's harder to get the gas out of the ground."
The company does not know when everyone in the neighborhood can return home.
“It could be hours, could be days and could be weeks,” Howell said. “We don't think it will be that long, but there's too many variables to be able to predict what that time frame will be.”
In the meantime, Erika's getting used to her newfound neighborhood celebrity.
“It’s a little cool,” she giggled.