Why is the tap water catching fire at this mobile home park in Yuba County?

YUBA COUNTY, Calif. - Rhonda Little pours a glass of water at her sister-in-law's mobile home, covers it with her hand for a moment, lights a match, and as she lifts her hand from the top of the glass there's a burst of blue flame.

It's the methane gas bubbling out of the water here at the Castlewood Mobile Home Park near the town of Linda.

When the motor failed on a pump that powers a scrubber to remove methane from the park's well, the gas made a return to the water system, worrying residents who remember what happened at the park seven years ago.

On January 5, 2008, methane gas from the water caused an explosion inside a mobile home at the park, blowing a toilet through the wall and destroying the structure. That's when the scrubbers were added to remove methane from the park's well and when those scrubbers failed, a test of the methane levels led to a warning.

"In their letter, open your house, keep your house open. Don't run water. Don't have any flame near your water," park resident Rhonda Little said, running her fingernail across an analysis of the water ordered by the state.

Residents became even more concerned when dangerous levels of coliform bacteria were found not long after the pump's failure.

"Unfortunately, the first sample he pulled was when they were pulling the pumps out of here that need to be rebuilt," said park manager Kyren Shimmen.

Later tests showed the bacterial levels were safe.

Studies of methane in drinking water show it is safe at low levels and the gas is not known to be a carcinogen. The state has given the water a clean bill of health and Park manager Shimmen makes her morning coffee with it.

"I just made some for the inspector and he's like, no, if I do that, I won't sleep tonight," Shimmen said.

But for now, the methane is still there and Shimmen acknowledges the warning that went out to residents.

"Don't smoke in your house. Don't leave your shower running..." she recalled.

Replacement parts for the scrubber motor are on their way from a supply house in New York and Shimmen said she expects the pump to be back in service in the next couple of weeks.

According to Little, it was residents who finally pushed the park to make the repairs.

"It's been two months. Nothing was done until we got in contact with the state and filed our claim," she said.


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