Overturned propane tanker prompts evacuations in Knights Valley, shuts down highway for hours

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An overturned tanker Tuesday shut down a rural highway in northern Sonoma County for more than four hours and prompted an evacuation after propane leaked.

Authorities ordered residents within a mile radius to evacuate shortly after the 10:30 a.m. crash on Highway 128 in Knights Valley. They lifted the order and opened the highway about 3 p.m., once the leak was repaired and the truck was moved.

The truck driver, James Pittman, 53, of Rohnert Park, drifted off the roadway and caught a tire on the asphalt edge, causing him to lose control on a curve, CHP Officer David deRutte said.

The tanker rolled onto its side, knocking open a valve and causing a long, slow leak, said Kelly Bradley, assistant fire chief for Wilmar Volunteer Company.

Propane can be highly volatile — days ago an explosion caused by a suspected propane leak demolished a Ukiah home.

Tuesday’s leak forced the evacuation of about 20 households, including off Foss Hill Road.

Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies and firefighters went door to door, ordering the few residents at home to leave the area. Officials also issued social media and emergency alerts to Sonoma and Napa county residents.

Picturesque Knights Valley sits in a remote pocket of northern Sonoma County and connects to Geyserville and Calistoga via Highway 128. The highway, a main thoroughfare, was closed on either side of the crash.

Cloverdale Fire Battalion Chief Rick Blackmon, who knocked on doors to alert residents of the evacuation, said they took “all of the proper safety measures.”

“We do have a big safety perimeter, trying to keep people away from the gas,” he said Tuesday.

The highway closure and evacuation were expected to last into the evening, as firefighters waited for leaking gas to run out. But the fix came sooner when a propane company worker arrived and determined the gas was unlikely to ignite and the problem could quickly be remedied, Bradley said.

Pittman wasn’t injured, and climbed out of the truck on his own.

In addition to the Sheriff’s Office and CHP, multiple fire agencies responded to the crash, including Cloverdale, Geyserville, Calistoga, Mountain, Knights Valley and Cal Fire. Caltrans and Sonoma County’s Hazardous Materials Response Team also assisted.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rossmannreport.

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