Mass Evacuation As Smelly Fruit Is Mistaken For Toxic Gas Leak

Hundreds of students and teachers were evacuated from a university library on Saturday when the smell of rotting fruit was mistaken for a major gas leak.

Around 600 people fled the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, as firefighters arrived to investigate the suspicious odour, Australian news website reported. Rather than a gas leak, however, the culprit turned out to be a rotting durian fruit.

The hazardous materials team donned protective gear including gas masks to conduct "a comprehensive search" of the library to investigate "potentially dangerous chemicals," a Metropolitan Fire Brigade statement titled "Rotten afternoon on campus" said. Extra care was taken because the building is known to store a variety of potentially toxic materials.

"Firefighters identified the smell was not chemical gas, but gas generated from rotting durian, an extremely pungent fruit which had been left rotting in a cupboard," the service explained.

Women dressed in Thai traditional costumes hold durians at a department store in Bangkok, Thailand, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Though not often eaten in the U.S., the durian is popular in Southeast Asia, where many street vendors stock the smelly snack. They are banned in many hotels and transport networks in Asia thanks to its smell, which has been described as "turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock."

But fans of the "king of fruits" laud its complex flavor, which includes hints of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana and egg custard. The monster fruit can grow as large as 12 inches long and 6 inches in diameter, weighing between 2 and 7 pounds. Its tough, thorn-covered outer shell makes harvesting the greenish-brown fruit a dangerous occupation for farmers.

This photo taken on January 26, 2018 shows a customer reaching for durian at Mao Shan Wang café in Singapore. The notoriously smelly fruit is popular in Southeast Asia. NICHOLAS YEO/AFP/Getty Images

Despite its infamous smell, many enjoying eating the durian fruit's gooey flesh, either raw or as flavoring for several traditional Asian dishes. It is also used as an anti-fever treatment and an aphrodisiac. According to Anthony Bourdain, the fruit is "indescribable, something you will either love or despise…Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."

Pungent even when its skin is intact, Durians are normally considered ripe when the intimidating outer shell begins to crack. It's a smell you won't get anywhere else, because as explains, the odour is a result of the fruit's specific combination of 50 different compounds. No particular element causes the stench, but together they form a unique—and for some, overwhelming—blend.

The fire service explained that the smell had traveled through the library via the air conditioning system. Officials said its disposal would be handled by the state's Environment Protection Authority.