Person County courthouse evacuated Wednesday

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The Person County courthouse was evacuated Wednesday afternoon as a result of a sewer gas backup.

Roxboro Fire Department Battalion Chief Wayne Wrenn said the backup was discovered around 4:30 p.m. by members of the Clerk of Court’s office.

Person County Clerk of Court Deborah Barker said members of her office discovered the smell of gas in their office and it had spread through the hallways, elevators and addition section of the courthouse. Barker said she worked with security in the courthouse to get in touch with building maintenance. When they could not be contacted, Barker walked over to the Roxboro Fire Department and asked for them to check out the smell.

“I didn’t set off any alarms or anything because I wasn’t really sure what it was until the fire department got there,” Barker said.

Wrenn said both of his engines were deployed to the courthouse. When they got there, the responders found hydrogen sulfide on their monitors - indicative of a sewer gas backup. Hydrogen sulfide gas has a characteristic rotten egg smell and is usually produced from the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen like in a sewer. The gas is poisonous, corrosive and flammable.

The courthouse was evacuated and when responders went back in, they found that the gas had dissipated.

Wrenn said the gas was likely pulled out by the heating and air system in the courthouse.

The cause of the backup is unclear, but Wrenn said it is suspected that the sewer floor drains didn’t have enough water to create a trap, causing the harmful gas to back up.

Barker said normally an evacuation would cause problems for the court. However, only two courts were in session Wednesday and both sessions had ended for the day before the evacuation.

She is unsure if there were any members of the general public in the courthouse when it was evacuated, but everyone got out safely and all is back to normal.

Barker said she was grateful for the response of the Roxboro Fire Department, courthouse security and law enforcement during the incident.

The site created quite a visual stir for motorists passing through Uptown Roxboro. Fire trucks and police cars cordoned off Abbitt and Court streets and emergency workers were stationed along Main and Lamar streetson the scene into Wednesday evening.

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