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Propane leak leads to evacuation of school, homes on Tuscarora Reservation

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

The discovery of a leak in an 18,000-gallon propane tank at a Tuscarora Reservation-based business led authorities Thursday morning to evacuate an estimated two dozen homes and an elementary school.

The leak was discovered by employees of Jay's Place, according to officials, while doing a routine check Thursday morning. The tank had reportedly been filled the evening before.

Jonathan Schultz, Niagara County's Director of Emergency Services, credits the business with taking quick action to remove the contents and reduce the danger. Once the liquid propane was transferred out of the tank, the remaining contents - vapors - were expended by a controlled burnoff. 

"They probably saved, before we started, the majority of what was in there," Schultz said. "Once they realized this morning they had a leak, they started working themselves before emergency services even got here to start offloading the propane."

Schultz even commented that he wished other companies would be as cooperative as the Jay's owners were in times of emergency. He was not sure, meanwhile, whether the company was subject to similar inspection rules as non-Native establishments, given their location on Native American land.

The children attending Tuscarora Indian Elementary School, which is part of the Niagara Wheatfield School District, were moved to nearby Niagara Wheatfield High School to finish out their day.

The district issued a prepared statement alerting parents of the situation: "Our Tuscarora elementary students have been safely evacuated to the High School.  The evacuation was due to a propane leak at a local business.  The students may remain at the High School for the remainder of the day, or parents can pick up their children at the high school if they desire."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.