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Video: Fuel leak could have been disastrous, investigators say

A potential disaster was averted Tuesday after fuel thieves tried to siphon gasoline from a Valero gas station, dumping more than 1,000 gallons of fuel from the station.

Investigators from the Merced Police Department and Merced Fire Department described the incident as a “river of fuel” that was spilling from one of the station’s gas tanks. Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident and investigators said they were able to stop the leak before the gas could pour into storm drains.

Police do not have any suspects currently in custody.

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The incident occurred before midnight Tuesday at the station, located at 655 Yosemite Parkway, after the thieves broke the lock off one of the station’s fuel tanks and then tried to siphon the gas from a ground tank into a black Chevy Astrovan, according to Merced Fire Department Chief Ken Mitten.

The thieves apparently cut a large hole into the floor of the van and positioned themselves over the gas tank. They then tried to siphon the gas into a 200 gallon tank inside of the van, using a long rubber hose and a car battery-powered pump.

For some reason, the thieves were unable to control the gas after they had begun siphoning it — and it then began to spill from the van. The thieves then fled the scene, leaving the gas pouring from the station, according to Merced Police Lt. Bimley West.

A Merced police officer was driving by the station and noticed the spill at 12:06 a.m. The Merced Fire Department and several police officers then responded to the scene and closed off the area, West said.

About 1,014 gallons of fuel spilled from the station, Mitten said.

Clean-up efforts at the gas station lasted well throughout Tuesday morning, as investigators placed mounds of absorbent material around the station, in order to soak-up the gas. The smell of fumes from the gas spill was particularly strong, as men wearing gas masks and protective suits cleaned up the area.

A spark or cigarette could have easily set-off the gas. Mitten said. “All of the potential was here for a major disaster,” Mitten said. It was a dangerous situation.”

Police are asking anyone with information to call the Merced Police Department at (209) 385-4725 or (209) 385-4702.

Check back for updates on this breaking story.