EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated at 4 p.m. when the roads closed. Upated at 4:27 p.m. with information about a gas outage in the area. Updated at 5:50 p.m. with information about the morning commute to the high school.
Students at San Juan Hills High were released from campus about an hour after the regular 2:45 p.m dismisal time when fire officials gave the all-clear following a natural gas leak on La Pata Avenue.
La Pata is the only roadway in and out of the high school.
Construction workers near the corner of Ortega Highway and La Pata Avenue, nicked an 8-inch natural gas line, prompting a major roadway closure and a lockdown at a nearby high school.
Fire and law enforcement agencies responded en mass to try to prevent an explosion because the natural gas leak saturated the air near the busted pipeline roughly 350 to 400 feet south of Ortega Highway.
“SDG&E can’t pull its drill bit back out because if it sparks, it goes boom,” said California Highway Patrol Sgt. G Saulman at about 2:45 p.m.
At 3:11 p.m., San Diego Gas & Electric officials turned off a valve serving San Juan Hills High School, a nearby model home tract and a landfill to contain the leak, according to Saulman. Officials estimated it would take 30 minutes to an hour for the gas to dissipate so that La Pata Avenue could partially reopen.
The northbound side of La Pata Avenue reopened, along with one southbound lane.
The school and the 16 new homes next to the school are now without gas after Southern California Gas workers shut off the flow of gas in a damaged line, said Angela Fentiman, spokeswoman for the company.
Gas company workers will work throughout the evening to repair the line and restore service, she said.
During the leak, "students will not be dismissed from school and cars are unable to access the school during this closure," said Principal Tom Ressler in a phone message to parents.
The students remained in their classrooms even though school let out at 2:45 p.m.
According to an alert from the city of San Juan Capistrano, San Diego Gas and Electric, Orange County Fire Authority, California Highway Patrol and the Orange County Sheriff's Department are on scene coordinating repairs and traffic control at the time.
In giving parents the go-ahead to pick up their students, Ressler asked them to "realize traffic is going to be very slow coming to and from school."
Buses won't leave campus until about 4:15 p.m., he added.
"Everyone at San Juan Hills High School was safe through this emergency. It "did not involve our campus at all."
Wednesday, only one lane will be available for students commuting to the high school in the morning, according to a 5:38 p.m. Tuesday message from Ressler. He asked parents to be patient with the traffic, and for them to leave earlier to accommodate delays.