Scores of customers were forced to evacuate part of Horsham town centre on Tuesday (July 29) after a gas leak was discovered in a store.
The leak was detected at the Waitrose supermarket in Piries Place at around 10.15am and emergency services established a cordon preventing entry.
All the shops in Piries Place were forced to close for about two hours while firefighters evacuated the area and dealt with the leak.
Firefighter Andy Mannering said they believed the gas was an asphyxiant gas.
Asphyxiant gases are not toxic, but can be highly dangerous to anyone who breathes it in directly.
Mark Mash, duty manager at Horsham’s Waitrose, said he was impressed with the way his staff handled the situation.
He explained: “I have got to be honest, the staff handled it exceptionally well. It was spot on and I could not fault it.”
A spokesperson for Waitrose said: “Our Horsham branch was evacuated as a precaution after a refrigeration pipe was damaged.
“This would not have been harmful to customers and was quickly isolated.
“We are grateful to customers and neighbouring businesses for their patience and understanding throughout.”
Mr Mannering told the County Times the leak had been caused by a split in one of the pipes connected to a refrigerator in the Waitrose store.
He said: “It seems like it was probably an accident. We closed Piries Place off for public safety.”
Mr Mannering added that crews allowed the tank of gas leading to the refrigerator to empty before releasing the gas back out through the exit of the store.
Customers were asked to leave the area by emergency services, and shops were closed while the gas was released.
Christopher Sloan, who works at Thomas Hart Opticians in Piries Place, said the process was an ‘irritation’ but recognised they ‘would rather not be blown up’.
He said: “I had just got a patient in the chair when (work colleague) Caroline came in and said there had been a gas leak.
“It is an irritation but we would rather not be blown up.”
Caroline Hart, who also works for the opticians, added: “It is better to be out here. It is better it is checked out than not.”
Steve Imhoff, manager of Sugar and Snow Ice Cream Parlour and Pancake House, said: “Obviously we have had to close the store so we have had to turf out all our customers.
“The summer holidays are our busiest time of year so this is inconvenient.
“But there is nothing we can do about it really. It has been nice to get some of the sun.”
The incident also delayed building works at the Dead Parrot cocktail bar which is scheduled to re-open at the end of the week.
Stores in Piries Place re-opened at about 12.15pm.