A natural gas leak forced thousands of people from their homes and businesses in Dartmouth Tuesday morning.

Deputy Fire Chief Roy Hollett says a construction crew working on Portland Street punctured a 15-centimetre natural gas main around 8:30 a.m.

Area resident Barry Ross had just returned to his Gaston Road home after dropping his children off at school and was having a smoke when someone yelled at him to put it out.

“All of a sudden, someone’s screaming at me, put your cigarette out!”

Ross says he could hear the hiss of leaking gas hundreds of metres from the punctured pipe and there was a strong smell downwind from the leak.

“It smelled like someone left their propane on all day,” he says.

As a precaution, roughly 550 homes and businesses were evacuated in the area.

“They just said ‘there’s a gas leak and you should leave the house,’” says evacuee Amanda Buckley. “I said ‘do I have to?’ and they said ‘yes, it’s very important.’”

“If it pools in low-lying areas, not unlike propane, it can become a greater problem for us,” says Phil McNulty of Halifax Regional Fire. “That’s why homes have to be evacuated. We have to determine if there’s any gas buildup in any of the buildings.”

Fire officials say a light breeze helped to dissipate the leaking gas. The natural gas was shut off around 11 a.m. at Gaston Road.

Halifax Transit buses provided shelter for people while they were evacuated from their homes or businesses. They were allowed to return around 12:30 p.m.

No injuries were reported.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Atlantic’s Rick Grant