John and Susan Serp had just awakened early yesterday when a firefighter started pounding on their front door, telling them they had to evacuate.
Minutes before, a neighbor on Chumleigh Road in Rodgers Forge, just north of the city line, had called the Baltimore County Fire Department to report the smell of natural gas. But John Serp didn't want to leave the house - his wife has emphysema and uses an oxygen tank.
"It was kind of scary, but I can't blame them for being concerned," he said.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews checked the Serps' home and let them stay. But a broken gas main on their street prompted the evacuation of about 40 people and forced the closure of several blocks of heavily traveled York Road, fouling the morning rush hour.
The Fire Department received the call about the gas smell from a resident in the 400 block of Chumleigh - a quiet road lined by brick rowhouses - shortly after 7 a.m.
Officials detected small amounts of gas in two homes and in the sewer lines under York Road, leading police to close the busy north-south thoroughfare between Stevenson Lane and Regester Avenue for about three hours.
Residents said being rousted from their homes by the Fire Department wasn't the best way to begin a Monday. But no one panicked.
Patricia Hoffman said her father, Ernest Ohler, a Chumleigh Road resident since 1959, called her at home in Cockeysville about 7:20 a.m. to pick him up.
Ohler, 94, was a little worried. But in the end, no harm was done, Hoffman said.
"We're going out for breakfast, we're going out for lunch, and, if we need to, we'll go out to dinner, too," she said.
The gas did not reach combustible concentrations in the homes or the sewer lines, said Fire Department spokesman Capt. James Korn, adding that officials ordered the evacuation and the road shutdown as a precaution.
BGE crews drilled a hole in the street over the break, allowing the gas to dissipate.
About 10:30 a.m., officials reopened York Road and allowed residents back into their homes, Korn said.
Last night, crews were still working at the site.
BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said the break appeared to be caused by fluctuations in temperature and the freezing and thawing of the ground. She said gas-line breaks, like water-main breaks, are typical this time of year.
After ordering the evacuation, county officials brought a Maryland Transit Administration bus to the area to provide temporary shelter for residents, but Korn said most people went to friends' or relatives' houses instead.