Copper Thefts Cause Gas Leaks in NJ Community

Camden residents put in jeopardy by thieves who steal copper from abandoned homes where the gas remains on

Natural gas not being cut off to abandoned homes and it has residents in one South Jersey community on alert.

“I just didn’t want to take any chances,” said Camden resident Lakeenya Johnson who heard a hissing sound and smelled the odor of gas.

According to firefighters, a month ago a vandal broke into a boarded up, foreclosed property on the 3100 block of Rowe Street in Camden and stole the copper pipes.

Since the gas wasn’t shut off it began spewing into the neighborhood.

“The gas level in the occupied attached structure could be high enough to cause an explosion just by somebody turning on a light switch, lighting a cigarette…,” said Camden Fire Department Chief Michael Harper.

Everyone had to be evacuated.

“If i would have waited a minute later, if even the water heater would have (gone) on -- the whole block would have went,” Johnson said.

Firefighters say that emergency calls about the smell of gas have become more frequent to the point where they now are equipped with combustible gas meters to detect leaks quickly.
But the question remains why the gas remains on in properties that aren’t occupied.

“As soon as the property is abandoned they need to shut it off,” said resident Madeline Vasquez.

Neighbors are frustrated the utilities are still on. With a history of blazes in vacant buildings, the fire department insists it has worked with the gas companies to target the problem in abandoned warehouses, shutting off the gas quickly.

But vacant homes are common on many -- if not most -- city blocks and can take longer to tend to. In the end, the residents blame the thieves.
“Why do you have to go and break into abandoned homes and steal the copper -- they are the ones that are causing this… putting our life in jeopardy,” said Vazquez.

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