WALSENBURG — Huerfano Fire Protection District volunteers responded Tuesday, July 14 at about 10:45 am to the county courthouse on a report of a strong odor in the building’s basement. At about 11:15 the order was given to evacuate the entire courthouse due to an off-gas situation. The Colorado State Patrol’s HazMat response team was requested and the courthouse remained closed until the problem was mitigated by hazardous material specialists. A CSP Hazmat technician arrived at the scene and officially cleared the building, ending the evacuation at approximately 1 pm. Scene reports indicate there was a sewer backup into the building’s boiler room and someone put chlorine onto the material, and caused a chemical reaction producing phosgene gas, which necessitated evacuation of the entire building. Phosgene gas was used in WWI as a blister agent on the battlefield. Newman said he was briefed and told the gas issue was contained to the boiler room and CSP announced the courthouse was safe to reenter by early afternoon Tuesday. “Evacuating the whole courthouse might have been a drastic measure,” Newman said,
“but better safe than sorry.” Last week, the City of Walsenburg’s vac truck was working on the sewer lines at the courthouse. Newman said when the city was cleaning the sewer line it caused a backup at the sheriff’s building, but they did not attempt to use chlorine to clean it up. Newman said reports indicate when the city swept the sewer line last week, a large amount of byproduct was forced into the basement under the boiler room area at the courthouse.