Starbucks
Emergency crews on scene at an El Cajon shopping center where a Starbucks employee suffered breathing problems following a carbon monoxide leak. Photo: OnSceneTV

An exhaust fan that appeared to have been accidentally turned off led to high levels of carbon monoxide at an El Cajon shopping center Sunday, triggering evacuations of multiple businesses.

Firefighters were called to a Starbucks on Fletcher Parkway near Navajo Road about 8:15 a.m. to assist with an employee who reported difficulty breathing, said Heartland Fire and Rescue spokesperson Sonny Saghera.

While at the scene, the firefighters monitored the air and noticed carbon monoxide inside the coffee shop, Saghera said. Workers and customers were cleared out of the Starbucks and nearby businesses, including an adjacent bagel shop, the Golden Bagel Cafe.

Firefighters were able to trace the carbon monoxide to the bagel shop, and found an exhaust fan above a boiler had apparently been turned off, allowing the gas to collect and spread, Saghera said.

A hazardous materials team was able to ventilate the businesses, and people were then allowed back inside.

The Starbucks employee was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Carbon monoxide is not poisonous in itself, but where it accumulates it displaces oxygen, and can be lethal.

–City News Service