STANTON ( — A strip mall and two apartment buildings had to be evacuated in Stanton on Sunday after a hit-and-run driver plowed into a gas meter.

Officials received a report around 5:50 p.m. that a black SUV had struck a gas meter behind a laundromat in the 12600 block of Beach Boulevard, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said.

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Gas could be heard hissing from the fixture and the smell permeated the area.

“Their auto had sheared off five of the gas meters behind this business…it’s a natural gas, highly flammable under pressure. There could definitely be a large amount of fire if it had ignited,” OCFA Capt. John Cloughen said.

Officials escorted dozens of people off the premises as workers turned off the gas.

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By 8:30 p.m., residents were allowed to return to their homes.

An SUV that was involved in the crash left the scene and was later found unoccupied by deputies, according to the O.C. Sheriff’s Department.

Eyewitness James Janstow said, “I heard an accident, metal work, a car pulled in — Suburban — drove through the parking lot. I looked to see who was driving it.”

Officials said the driver was still on the loose.

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