updated 11/13/2007 9:29:32 PM ET 2007-11-14T02:29:32

An ammonia leak that began when a 16-year-old boy drilled a hole into a pipeline because he heard money was hidden there forced three schools to close Tuesday and led authorities to order evacuations for nearby homes.

The teen was severely burned when he drilled into the pipe Monday night, releasing a cloud of ammonia near the Alafia River, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday. He was taken to a hospital, and his condition was not immediately available.

Fire crews worked through the night Monday and into Tuesday, spraying water on the leak to dissipate the noxious cloud. Four firefighters were treated for respiratory problems.

The teen told deputies he drilled into the pipe in search of money he heard was hidden inside. Officials said he likely will face felony charges.

The pipe carries ammonia from a port to fertilizer plants east of Tampa.

The sheriff's office said it may take another day or so to stop the leak because pressure must be reduced in the pipe before repairs can begin. An expert was being flown from Houston to Tampa to work on it Tuesday.

Reverse-911 recorded calls went out to about 3,700 homes within a half mile of the leak, ordering the residents to evacuate, said Holley Wade, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center. She didn't know how many people actually left their homes.

U.S. 301, a major north-south thoroughfare in the Tampa area, was closed, causing traffic snarls during the morning rush hour Tuesday. Environmental damage, if any, was still being determined.

Liquid ammonia, an ingredient in fertilizer that provides nitrogen to plants, vaporizes when it hits the air and can cause respiratory problems.

Ammonia can be extremely toxic and may be fatal if inhaled. The vapors are irritating and corrosive, according to the federal Emergency Response Guidebook. Symptoms of exposure include a harsh burning sensation in the nose, a bad taste or stinging in the mouth, as well as headaches, nausea and difficulty breathing.

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